Mike Moser made it back from a dislocated elbow faster than expected.
Moser missed four games with the injury before returning to play 12 minutes in No. 20 UNLV's 79-73 loss at North Carolina on Saturday. The 6-foot-8 junior managed only a 3-pointer just before halftime before fouling out.
"I wasn't limited," Moser said. "It was probably just mental more than anything. I was kind of playing a different role tonight, so trying to catch a rhythm was tough."
Moser, who is averaging about 11 points and eight rebounds, hadn't played since suffering the injury at California on Dec. 9. He was hurt when his right arm bent awkwardly under an opposing player as the two dived on the court for a loose ball.
UNLV coach Dave Rice said Moser had looked OK in his recent return to practice, though he's still limited with his range of motion. Rice said Moser's experience was his biggest asset against the Tar Heels.
"It's just going to make the next game that much easier," Moser said.
For North Carolina, P.J. Hairston scored 15 points in his first career start.
Dexter Strickland added a season-high 16 points for the Tar Heels (10-3), who led by 15 points in the first half and by nine at the break. But UNC had to turn away a second-half surge by the Runnin' Rebels (11-2) to earn the program's 63rd straight home win against nonconference opponents.
Freshman Anthony Bennett had 15 points and 13 rebounds for UNLV, which led by a point briefly in the second half but spent most of the game in catch-up mode. Katin Reinhardt and Anthony Marshall each added 15 points for the Runnin' Rebels.
Hairston started in place of Reggie Bullock, who sat out with a mild concussion suffered in Thursday's practice.
Hairston finished 5 for 10 from the field and hit two 3-pointers, but the 6-foot-5 sophomore turned in a strong overall performance that included four rebounds, four steals and two charges taken. He also knocked down two free throws with 28.5 seconds left that made it a two-possession game after the Runnin' Rebels had closed within 76-73.
James Michael McAdoo shook off a poor first half and finished with 13 points and nine rebounds for the Tar Heels, who shot 51 percent for the game and scored 18 points off 17 turnovers by UNLV.
The Tar Heels fell out of the Top 25 after a loss at Texas and hadn't played since a 34-point home win over McNeese State three days before Christmas. They looked sharp and active early in this one, frequently getting hands in passing lanes or stripping the ball to build the first-half lead.
Then, after UNLV had closed within one midway through the second half, the Tar Heels put together a 7-1 spurt to re-build some of its lost early cushion. McAdoo scored a tough basket over Bennett inside, then freshman Marcus Paige followed with a jumper over Khem Birch.
Two minutes later, freshman Brice Johnson went up in traffic to rebound a missed shot from Strickland and score on a putback that made it 71-64 with 4:40 left.
Strickland hit a jumper near the foul line that barely beat the shot clock for a 74-68 lead with 1:33 left, though the Tar Heels couldn't close it out until those final seconds.