Runnin’ Rebels hand Boise State Broncos first home loss in 22 games

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UNLV No.11 Dedan Thomas Jr. high fives teammates in the Runnin' Rebels home opener against Southern. (Scarlet & Gray Free Press/DJ Cabanlong).

The UNLV Men’s basketball defeated the Boise State Broncos, who were undefeated in Mountain West Conference play 68-64 at the ExtraMile Arena in Boise, Idaho, to improve its record to 9-7 and 2-2 in conference play on Jan. 16.

The standout off the bench from the Rebels was Rob Whaley Jr., who picked up a career-high 18 points, shooting 8-of-11 and 16 points inside the paint. 

Outside of the monster performance from Whaley Jr., the Rebels rebounding helped propel them to victory as they finished with 35, the same number they trailed by in that department in a double overtime loss to Saint Mary’s. 

Entering this contest, the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels came off its toughest loss of the season, which saw the team fall to the No. 20 Utah State Aggies 87-86 while entering the final eight seconds up by four points. 

As leather touched the hardwood floor, signaling the start of this potentially high-octane affair, the crowd at the packed ExtraMile Arena put their voices behind the Broncos, who had not lost inside its home court in 22 games over 433 days. At the time, this was the longest win streak in the nation. 

Although the Rebels jumped out to a 7-5 lead in the opening minutes, they struggled shooting the ball early, shooting only three for their first eight. 

The Rebels’ shooting flaws would change after Rob Whaley Jr. checked into the game. He immediately made his physical presence felt, making all six of his first-half shots, powering the Rebels out to a 21-13 lead with 10 minutes remaining in the half. 

While Whaley Jr. made the opportunities count, the Rebels’ defense had them off and running early with four turnovers, two of them generated by the Mountain West leader in steals, Luis Rodriguez. 

With nine minutes remaining in the half, Broncos guard Max Rice attempted to pull the team back into the game with a 3-pointer, but Justin Webster immediately answered it with a move in the paint to make the score 23-16. 

Last year, in the matchup between these two teams, Webster finished with a career-high 18 points, five of which were from 3-point range. 

A timeout was called after the Broncos’ fifth turnover of the game, committed by Roddie Anderson and a layup from Whaley Jr., drastically shifting the game’s momentum with five minutes remaining in the half. 

Following the timeout, Boise State would go on a 16-5 run to take the lead with 30 seconds left in the half. Chibuzo Agbo led the push with four field goals to close out the half and finished his first half with 14 points. 

In the Rebels final possession of the half, Justin Webster connected for his first 3-pointer and gave the Rebels back the lead as the buzzer sounded 36-34.

Both teams struggled from deep despite taking an abnormal number of shots, combining for a statline of 7-of-26. 

As the second half began, the Rebels found themselves with an opportunity after Kalib Boone drew a shooting foul from beyond the arc, but he missed all three attempts from the free-throw line. 

After the failed free throws, Boise State looked to push back into the game. Its defense caused three turnovers from the Rebels as they forced UNLV into tough shot-clock situations on three consecutive drives up the court. 

O’mar Stanley put the Broncos back on top, converting a three-point play after drawing a foul inside the paint, giving the Broncos the lead again, 37-36.

 Kalib Boone responded with a splash from downtown to give the Rebels the lead right back, 39-37. 

With the game pulling closer, Dedan Thomas Jr. and Max Rice exchanged 3-pointers to make the score 50-47 with eight minutes left. 

However, this would not be for long as it soon became a Tyson Degenhart and Whaley Jr. show as Degenhart moved his point total up to 21 after only five in the first half, 10 of those coming within three minutes of each other, making the score 57-52.

 On the other side, Whaley set a career-high with 18 points, scoring five in the crucial moments, changing the score to 59-56 Rebels with three minutes left. 

As the game came down to its final seconds, clutch free throws from Thomas Jr. and Webster pushed the Rebels over the top in a 68-64 win with a combined eight points from the line. 

Up Next

The Rebel’s next stop will be on the road against the 14-3 Colorado State Rams, looking for its tenth win of the year.

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