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Runnin' Rebels Take on Montana State

Steve Marcus

UNLV Rebels guard David Jenkins Jr. (5) takes a shot over Montana State Bobcats guard Kellen Tynes (24) during the Rebels’ season opener at the Thomas & Mack Center Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020.

David Jenkins was a victim of high expectations in UNLV’s puzzling, season-opening loss to Montana State.

After lighting up the Summit League for two years under then-South Dakota State coach T.J. Otzelberger, it was taken for granted that Jenkins, given a redshirt year to acclimate after transferring to UNLV, would explode out of the gate and be a star scorer right away this season.

Instead the 6-foot-2 guard struggled to get open and his shooting touch abandoned him as he scored just seven points in 29 minutes before fouling out against Montana State.

Jenkins made 2-of-9 from the field and hit one of his five 3-point attempts. His last season at South Dakota State (2018-19), he shot 45.3% from 3-point range and scored 19.7 points per game.

It was an unexplainable performance considering he’s playing under the same coach and in the same system that helped facilitate his success with the Jackrabbits.

Following Wednesday’s loss at the Thomas & Mack Center, Otzelberger posited that a team-wide offensive malaise may have depressed Jenkins’ production.

“Could be nerves a little bit,” Otzelberger said. “They haven’t played in a game. I don’t know what to say. Those are guys, Bryce Hamilton, David Jenkins, Caleb Grill, they are guys on a daily basis that shoot the ball at a really high clip.”

Jenkins appeared to allow his offensive struggles to affect him on the other end of the floor. He was slow to move his feet when defending the dribble, and Montana State repeatedly targeted him when driving to the rim.

Again, Otzelberger said that was something that applied to the entire team, not just Jenkins.

“I think a lot of players generate energy off scoring the basketball, and that didn’t happen because we weren’t scoring it easily early,” Otzelberger said. “That hurt our competitive spirit defensively, and our fight and our toughness. We’ve got to be able to play through that. Every team is going to have stretches where shots don’t fall and you’ve got to be able to carry yourself through those moments.”

Whatever slowed Jenkins in the first game, UNLV has to figure it out fast. The team is in Asheville, N.C. this week for the relocated Maui Invitational, and the scarlet and gray will surely need Jenkins’ firepower against Monday’s opponent, No. 16 North Carolina.

The Tarheels held College of Charleston to 60 points in their season-opening win, but UNC starts two freshmen in the backcourt in 6-foot R.J. Davis and 6-foot-4 Caleb Love. If Jenkins can figure out how to get to his spots in the UNLV offense, his 3-point shooting could be a key factor in the upset bid.

Blake introduces himself

Nick Blake certainly looked like one of UNLV’s most effective players on Wednesday, as the smooth freshman knocked down four 3-pointers and scored 16 points in his college debut, and the advanced stats back it up.

UNLV lost the game, 91-78, but in the 23 minutes Blake was on the floor UNLV actually outscored Montana State, 57-52. Though much of that came in in garbage time (UNLV won the final four minutes, 13-5), Blake was part of UNLV’s two most effective lineups.

The most interesting look was the five-guard configuration that Otzelberger sent out for three different stretches. Blake, at 6-foot-7, was the tallest UNLV player on the floor during that time while point guard Marvin Coleman (6-foot-3) was tasked with defending the post. Guards Jenkins, Hamilton and Grill rounded out the rest of the lineup, and they played Montana State to a 19-19 draw over six minutes and 21 seconds. They shot 7-of-11 from the field and averaged 1.36 points per possession.

It’s not anything to crow about, obviously, as UNLV should not be striving to play Montana State even. But compared to how the rest of the game went, maybe there’s a reason to give the five-guard lineup — and Blake in particular — another extended look in Asheville.

Otzelberger sounded open to the idea.

“Nick had some great contributions,” Otzelberger said. “Obviously made some shots, was very efficient. He’s been efficient. As we practice he’s continuing to mature and grow. I think he’s definitely got a bright future ahead of him, yet at the same time we need him right now. We’re going to need those types of performances, not only offensively, but Nick’s somebody that really needs to impact games for us on the defensive end and on the glass rebounding the basketball as well.”

Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at

Article written by #LasVegasSun