No. 21 UNLV upends Canisius 89-74UNLV forward Anthony Bennett (15) gestures after a 3-point shot during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Canisius, Saturday, Dec. 22, 2012, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Eric Jamison)
LAS VEGAS (AP) -- Once he had seized control of the game, UNLV's Anthony Bennett smiled each time he made a basket on Saturday.
Bennett, who had 21 points and seven rebounds to lead No. 21 UNLV to an 89-74 victory over Canisius, was one of five Rebels to score in double figures.
Bennett, the freshman power forward who was wearing bright green high-tops, is already drawing comparisons to former Runnin' Rebel star Larry Johnson.
Bennett made his second 3-pointer of the game at the 9:03 mark of the first half. He then yelled toward the rafters of the Thomas and Mack Center and flexed as he walked toward the bench with his team up 11.
Bennett was 8 of 12 from the field, including three 3-pointers and numerous highlight dunks that ignited the crowd.
''We played together,'' UNLV coach Dave Rice said. ''We did a terrific job sharing the ball, we had 24 assists on the night and it was a very balanced attack for us.
''I tell the guys all the time that whoever is open is going to get the ball and we did a great job in sharing the ball, making extra passes. It was certainly a team effort tonight against a very good basketball team.''
Khem Birch, playing in his third game since becoming eligible for the Rebels (11-1) added 20 points on 7 of 8 shooting from the field, eight rebounds and six blocked shots. Katin Reinhardt had 14 while Bryce Dejean-Jones and Justin Hawkins added 12 apiece.
''Khem Birch has worked extremely hard during the two semesters that he practiced with us after he transferred (from Pittsburgh),'' Rice said. ''He's always been a defensive post presence, but he's worked extremely hard on his offensive post game with our assistant coaches after practice. And it's great when a young man, who's worked as hard as he has, (gets to) see the reward.''
Said Birch: ''The one thing that got me going was my offense early. I really shocked myself, and after that, that gave me more confidence.''
Canisius (8-3), which had four players score in double figures, was led by Billy Baron's 30 points. Harold Washington added 17, while Jordan Heath and Isaac Sosa each had 11 points.
After a sluggish start that saw them fall behind 8-3 a little more than three minutes into the game, the Runnin' Rebels used a 7-0 run to take the lead and a 14-3 run to take the lead for good.
The Golden Griffins, who were looking for their second straight upset after defeating Temple by 10 in Philadelphia on Wednesday, tried to rally but were thwarted by UNLV's transition game.
At the 6:40 mark of the first half the Golden Griffins got within 3, but then Birch hit one of two from the free throw line, Bennett hit a short jumper and Reinhardt went coast-to-coast, put it in and completed the three-point play to put UNLV up by nine at 37-28.
''We knew they went into a very good Temple team and beat them at their house,'' Reinhardt said. ''We knew they were going to be physical, we knew that we couldn't let up. We got off to that hot start and I think it carried over to the rest of the game.''
Canisius, which came into the game having made 61 3-pointers in its previous five games, was 7 of 15 (46.7 percent) from beyond the arc in the first half, en route to a 13 of 29 (44.8 percent) game performance from long-range.
The Golden Griffins also came in ranked second in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and 15th nationally with 9.3 3-pointers per game.
''That won us a lot of games up to now,'' Canisius coach Jim Baron said about his team's 3-point shooting.
''But we still gotta use our inside game, we still gotta try to get inside so we can get to the foul line. I thought that really hurt us tonight. We only got eight foul shots and they got 20. We gotta get it inside. We gotta use our bigs inside to get it down low and get to the free throw line.
''Right now we gotta get some rest. We play a game on the 27th. We gotta get back and get focused into that game.''
Canisius returns home to face Alcorn State on Thursday.
Meanwhile, UNLV is off until next Saturday, when they will travel to Chapel Hill to face No. 23 North Carolina. The Rebels defeated then-No. 1 North Carolina 90-80 in the championship game of the Las Vegas Invitational last season.