The surprising Canisius Golden Griffins hit the road for their longest trek yet as they head to the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas to do battle with the 21st-ranked UNLV Runnin' Rebels on Saturday night.
Canisius, which has already played six games on the road this season but none requiring them to leave the somewhat friendly confines of the Mid-Atlantic States, is off to a sensational start with eight wins in 10 opportunities. The most recent victory for the program took place on Wednesday when it defeated Temple, 72-62, as part of the Gotham Classic at the Liacouras Center in Philadelphia. The win was the second in a row and the fifth in six games for a school that won a grand total of just five games all of last season.
As for the Runnin' Rebels, they are one of three teams from the Mountain West Conference that is currently ranked, and one of three squads that has already reached double-digit wins before Christmas. Outside of an 83-79 home loss to Oregon last month, UNLV has been cruising along with an eight-game win streak, thanks to a 73-59 romp over visiting Northern Iowa three nights ago as part of the Mountain West/Missouri Valley Challenge.
The Runnin' Rebels won the only previous meeting between these two programs last season at home, 95-70.
Shooting just 39.3 percent from the floor in the first half against Temple, the Golden Griffins fell behind by double digits before putting up a stout defensive front after the break, en route to the 10-point road win. Canisius held the Owls to just eight total field goals in the final 20 minutes of action, 2-of-16 behind the 3-point line in the period. Billy Baron led all scorers with 19 points, Isaac Sosa chipped in 13 points, followed by Harold Washington and Reggie Groves with 12 points apiece. Despite being held to a combined five points, Chris Manhertz and Josiah Heath made their presence felt with a collective 24 rebounds. Manhertz is used to having strong efforts on the glass, averaging better than eight rebounds per game, but it would be nice if his scoring (6.5 ppg) could also evolve. Baron leads the way with 16.2 ppg and Washington is close behind with another 15.5 ppg, the pair combining for 80 assists as well.
Even though the Runnin' Rebels don't have the services of Mike Moser currently, what they do have is a budding star in Anthony Bennett who erupted for 20 points, 12 rebounds and three blocked shots in the win over the Panthers earlier in the week. Also scoring in double figures, as the Rebels sent in plenty of reserves, was backup Khem Birch who teamed his 11 points with nine rebounds as the hosts won the battle of the boards, 42-34. Defensively, UNLV forced only 11 turnovers, but the squad did hold UNI to just 33.3 percent shooting from the floor. Bennett is now averaging 19.4 ppg and 8.6 rpg, both of which are pacing the Rebels, and those sort of numbers are drawing quite a bit of attention, considering he's still new to college basketball since he hails from Canada. Without Moser (10.9 ppg, 8.3 rpg), the only other active double-digit scorer at the moment is Anthony Marshall with his 10.6 ppg. A 56.0 percent shooter beyond the arc, Marshall's bigger purpose is passing the ball, to the tune of five assists per contest.