The UNLV Runnin’ Rebels defeated the UNR Wolf Pack on the road 69-67 in overtime to conclude the regular season to improve its record to 18-12 overall and 7-11 in Mountain West Conference play on March 4.
“It’s a good feeling,” Head Coach Kevin Kruger said. “Even though there was a valley through the middle where we played not exactly the way we wanted, this group deserves this feeling to finish off the regular season.”
Kruger as a coach is undefeated against the Wolf Pack, and UNLV has beaten Nevada in the last four meetings between the in-state rivals.
“We tried to get a good shot every possession. We tried to get a stop on every possession,” Kruger said. “We didn’t run out and take any quick shots or bad shots on transition. We were patient.”
E.J. Harkless scored 24 points, dished out four assists, and picked up eight rebounds in 29 minutes of play.
UNLV outplayed the Wolf Pack in overtime without starters Keshon Gilbert and Harkless. Gilbert was ejected within the first five minutes of play, and Harkless fouled out late in regulation.
The UNLV bench made essential contributions to the victory. Jackie Johnson III scored 12 points off the bench, including seven points in overtime. Luis Rodriguez finished with a double-double with 14 points and 13 rebounds.
The Wolf Pack relied on its starters to carry the offense with Jarod Lucas and Kenan Blackshear. Lucas and Blackshear combined for 41 points against UNLV.
The Runnin’ Rebels started with momentum on offense with a 13-0 scoring run led by two Harkless 3-pointers within the game’s first four minutes.
“That’s the first time we actually put somebody on their heels for the timeout before to stop a run,” Kruger said. “Got some big shots, great patience, but most importantly, we’re locked down on defense to give up nothing easy to get the game going, and I think you know that tone that was set, the guys carried on through that for 45 minutes.”
The momentum swung back to the Wolf Pack with a 12-point run of its own, capped off by a jump shot by Darrion Williams to make the score 13-12 midway through the first half.
Gilbert got ejected for a flagrant foul at 14:23 in the game. The foul was due to Gilbert making contact with a player on the Wolf Pack during the stoppage of play.
Keyshawn Hall kickstarted the backend of the weekend with a 3-pointer to give the Rebels an 18-17 lead.
The Rebels controlled the remainder of the first half, with the bench players filling in for Gilbert. Rodriguez played the most minutes of any bench player of the game and knocked down a 3-pointer to send the Rebels into the half with a 31-21 lead.
The Wolf Pack chipped away the UNLV lead to start the second half of play with a 12-point scoring run. Blackshear scored seven points of the Wolf Pack’s 12 points that tied the game 35-35 just over five minutes into the second half.
Johnson III broke the tie with a 3-pointer to give the Rebels a 38-35 lead in the following possession.
The Wolf Pack regained the lead midway through the second half by drawing fouls from the Runnin’ Rebels. Then, the Wolf Pack scored seven consecutive points by free throws to take a 45-42 lead.
The Wolf Pack expanded its lead to eight with just over two minutes remaining in the game. However, the Wolf Pack was unable to hold onto its lead.
A 3-pointer by Justin Webster and Harkless tied up the game 54-54 with just over one minute in regulation.
Harkless fouled out with less than one minute remaining, with the game tied. Jarod Lucas made both free throws to make the score 56-54.
With 10 seconds remaining, the Runnin’ Rebels created space for Rodriguez to make a layup to send the game to overtime tied at 56-56.
The overtime started with a jump shot made by Lucas to put the Wolf Pack ahead 58-56.
David Muoka scored a layup assisted by Johnson III to tie the game at 58-58 with 3:37 to go in overtime.
Johnson III took control of the game without Harkless and Gilbert, scoring a team-high seven points in overtime to propel the Runnin’ Rebels over the Wolf Pack 69-67.
The Runnin’ Rebels are now off to the Mountain West Championship Tournament from March 8-11 at the Thomas & Mack Center. The Runnin’ Rebels will have to win the tournament to clinch a bid to the NCAA National Championship Tournament.