A momentary lapse by Cal State Fullerton and a sudden surge by Nevada Las Vegas helped lead the Rebels to an 86-74 victory over the Titans Thursday night in the Big West Conference opener in Titan Gym.
A crowd of 3,702 watched Fullerton (4-6) outplay UNLV (9-2) for much of the first half, after which the Titans held a 41-39 lead. Joe Small was hitting from the outside and scored 14 of his 19 points in the first half, Agee Ward was effective from the inside, scoring 10 of his 21 points, and point guard Aaron Sunderland scored nine on a variety of drives and jumpers.
But Fullerton went cold early in the second half, and the Rebels took advantage, scoring 10 consecutive points to turn a 45-41 deficit into a 51-45 lead with 16 minutes remaining.
UNLV extended the lead to nine with 10:43 left, and Fullerton never got closer than five points the rest of the way.
J.R. Rider finished with a game-high 22 points, including three three-point shots, but the key for the Rebels was the play of 7-foot center Elmore Spencer, who was relatively quiet in the first half but powered his way to 16 of his 20 points in the second.
Spencer also had 11 rebounds and three blocked shots, and two Titan centers, Sean Williams and Kim Kemp, fouled out trying to guard him.
"He's like a big wall you're trying to get around," Williams said of Spencer. "In the first half, he was passing to everyone else, but in the second they started going to him and he scored. He was getting easy points, so we started fouling him. But I don't feel too bad, because he fouled (Louisiana State's) Shaquille O'Neal out, too."
Another key for UNLV was changing its defense against Small in the second half. The Titan guard made five of seven shots in the first half but only one of six in the second.
"We started in a man-to-man and Small never missed a shot," UNLV Coach Jerry Tarkanian said. "He looked like he was going to have one of those nights, so we went to the box-and-one. That kid's a great shooter. If he had shot well against UCLA, they would have blown them out. He's the best shooter in the conference."