Runnin’ Rebels advance to Round of 16 with monumental win over Princeton Tigers

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UNLV Runnin' Rebels Head Coach Kevin Kruger applauds as the clock strikes 0 and Rebels defeat San Jose State University. (Scarlet & Gray Free Press/DJ Cabanlong).

UNLV Men’s basketball (20-11) defeated the No. 2 seed Princeton Tigers (24-5) 84-77 in the Round of 32 on the road at Jadwin Gymnasium to advance to the Round of 16 of the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) on March 20.

The Rebels win is its first postseason victory since 2008 against Kent State in the NCAA Tournament.

The Rebels earned a bid to the tournament after an early round exit in the Mountain West Championships to eventual Mountain West Championship runner-up San Diego State Aztecs. 

Rob Whaley Jr. was sensational for the Rebels, scoring 21 points, nine rebounds, and shooting perfect from the field.

Keylan Boone was a key contributor to the win, finishing with a double-double and two steals.

Webster also shined for the Rebels, scoring 15 points and shooting 71% from the field.

The Rebels entered the game with the loss of senior guard Luis Rodriguez and forward Kalib Boone. Justin Webster and Shane Nowell made the start as their replacements.

The Rebels offense started hot early, scoring on their first couple possessions, but Princeton countered, scoring two quick 3-pointers to take an early 6-5 lead in the first two minutes of the game.

UNLV quickly turned defense into offense, forcing two steals and scoring in transition to extend the Rebel lead.

Boone was scorching hot, scoring on all three levels to cap off an UNLV 9-0 run, making the score 16-9 with 14:43 left.

Princeton continued to fight back, led by Ivy League Player of the Year Caden Pierce, who secured two steals and orchestrated the charge for the Tigers to cut the Rebels lead to 18-16 with 10:36 left.

Despite Zach Martini catching fire for the Tigers, draining two 3-pointers, the Rebels battled back, with Whaley Jr. dominating the glass and scoring in the paint to tie the game 23-23 with 8:10 left.

Throughout the backend of the first half, the game turned into an offensive frenzy, with both teams making their next seven of eight shots combined, making the score 36-32 with 2:55 left.

As the half came to a close, the Rebels swung momentum after a chase-down block by Keylan Boone that led to a Tiger turnover. The Rebels capitalized on their next possession to close the half 38-36 in favor of Princeton.

The Rebels electric first half offense shot over 55% from the field and 36% from three. The Rebels also won in the trenches, securing 17 rebounds to the Tigers 12.

Keylan Boone started the second half strong, getting a quick steal and scoring a reverse layup. On the Rebels next possession, Boone and Webster knocked down a pair from beyond the arc to take a 44-40 lead with 18 minutes left.

The Rebels continued to throw haymakers at the Tigers, with Nowell draining his second 3-pointer of the game. Pierce retaliated, attacking the basket and drawing a foul before the media timeout.

The Rebels defensive scheme started to rattle Princeton, forcing a seventh turnover for the Tigers. The Rebels picked up two more points to extend the lead to 53-46.

The Tigers cold spell on offense led to lackluster defense as the Rebels offense caught its stride, with Webster scoring his tenth point of the game, giving the Rebels its largest lead of the game with a score of 55-46 with 12:51 left.

Following a steal from Pierce, the Tigers responded on the offensive end, scoring a layup to cap a 7-0 run, forcing the Rebels to call a timeout.

Whaley Jr. continued playing the low block for UNLV and picked up four more points to bump his point total to 14 on perfect shooting. The Rebels continued to coast away with a score of 66-53 with eight minutes left.

Keylan Boone continued to put on a masterclass for the Rebels, scoring a fading mid-range jump shot. Pierce would not go down for the Tigers, scoring a 3-pointer to put him at the 20-point mark and cutting the Rebels lead to 70-58 with 4:37 left.

Throughout the backend of the second half, the Tigers started to send a full-court trap that transitioned into a 1-3-1 press to pressure UNLV.

The Tigers started turning defense into offense, going on a 10-3 run to make the score 73-68 with 1:41 left.

The Rebels continuously got sent to the free-throw line to close the game. Princeton had an opportunity with one last shot, but a miss from Xaivian Lee and two more free throws from Brooklyn Hicks sealed the deal for the Rebels to hand the Tigers its first home loss of the season by the score of 84-77.

Up Next

UNLV will be back home at Thomas & Mack to take on the Boston College Eagles in the Round of 16 of the NIT Tournament. Tip-off will be at 6:30 p.m. on March 24.

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