When senior forward Shakur Juiston went down with an injury and the team played poorly in Hawaii over the holiday break, many fickle UNLV basketball fans start stoking the fires of unrest. Some even reporting UNLV had a secret agreement with disgraced former Louisville coach Rick Pitino. Head coach Marvin Menzies could’ve gotten caught up in the madness, but — instead — the third-year coach rallied the troops.

The Runnin’ Rebels handed New Mexico a convincing loss at The Pit Tuesday night, 80-69, to open conference play 3-0 for the first time since 1999, when they were a member of the WAC under Bill Bayno.

Menzies was able to do what his previous three predecessors were unable to do: Win the first three games of Mountain West Conference play. The feat is the first in UNLV history, a feather in the cap of the much-maligned coach who is leading a squad of just four upperclassmen and 11 underclassmen with less than two years of college basketball experience.

“We’re very mission-driven and there’s going to be adversity so we just have to handle that as it comes,” Menzies said after the game. “Fall back on our training. Fall back on our standards, core values and principles on how we operate and get through those moments like the loss that we had in Hawaii.

“We’ll use that as a lesson in experience. That (Hawaii) loss might have came at the right time.”

Making the win more exciting is the fact that UNR took a bad loss at The Pit this past Saturday night, getting depantsed, 85-58, by the Lobos. Road wins in the Mountain West are hard to come by, and wins at The Pit even harder. The moment marked arguably the biggest win of the Menzies Era, propelling the Rebels to a half-game lead in sole possession of first place.

Senior Kris Clyburn led the way as he scored a game-high 25 points along with nine rebounds. Fellow senior, transfer Noah Robotham, had arguably his best game as a Rebel, adding 14 points and eight assists, while underclassmen Joel Ntambwe and Amauri Hardy scored 12 apiece in the win. 

“I thought it was his best game of the year,” Menzies said about Robotham’s performance. “By far, it was the most complete game of the year. He had a big shot at BYU but I’ll take one at The Pit over that one and we don’t win without him tonight.”

Freshman Bryce Hamilton also played well in 12 minutes, adding nine points in another strong stretch of play for the talented young guard.

The win sets UNLV up for a strong first half of conference play as they get a week off before heading to Air Force on Jan. 16 before returning home to the Thomas & Mack Center to host San Jose State on Jan. 22. The time off should also give sophomore Cheikh Mbacke Diong time to heal after the forward went down awkwardly and twisted his knee to end the first half.