Runnin’ Rebels win monumental conference game against No. 21 San Diego State Aztecs

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UNLV No. 2 Justin Webster celebrates making a 3-pointer. He drew a foul on the shot and made the free throw to make it a 4-point play against No. 21 San Diego State University. (Scarlet & Gray Free Press/DJ Cabanlong.)

UNLV Men’s Basketball defeated the No. 21-ranked San Diego State Aztecs 62-58 on senior night at the Thomas & Mack Center on March 5 to improve to an overall record of 19-10 and 12-5 in conference play.

The Rebels entered the game ranked No. 5 in the Mountain West. A win against the Aztecs moved UNLV into a three-way tie for No. 2 in the Mountain West, with Boise State and Nevada.

“Just trying to find a way to capitalize and finish a great game,” senior forward Kalib Boone said. “Don’t get too high, don’t get too low. Understand game situations.”

UNLV freshman Dedan Thomas Jr. scored 19 points with three rebounds and assists.

Kalib Boone shined for the Rebels, scoring 16 points and a game-high four blocks.

Senior Karl Jones was also a key contributor to the win, with five points and six rebounds off the bench for the Rebels.

The Rebels defense looked emphatic early on, leading to a 3-point shot by Thomas, which gave UNLV the first points of the game.

UNLV’s high-powered offense continued to fire at all cylinders, with Keylan Boone cashing in a 3-point basket and forcing the Aztecs to call a timeout.

The Aztec offense looked lifeless, unable to score for the first five minutes of the game. Jaedon LeDee broke the ice for the Aztecs, making three free throws.

The Rebels continued to thrive, countering back with Keylan Boone driving to the basket for a layup and a putback slam by Jones to give UNLV a 10-2 lead with 13:42 left.

The Rebel faithful erupted midway through the first half, led by a 4-point play by Justin Webster, forcing the Aztecs to call another timeout, trailing the Rebels 16-5.

The Rebels dynamic offense continued to thrive, led by the Boone brothers carrying the Rebel offense to nine consecutive points, putting the Rebels up 27-10 with 7:58 left.

Throughout the backend of the first half, the Aztecs started applying a full-court press, forcing UNLV to become sloppy with the basketball. The Aztecs continued chipping away at the Rebel lead, scoring two 3-pointers and a layup to cut the Rebels’ lead to 30-25 with 3:53 left.

With under a minute left in the first half, Rob Whaley Jr. scored a post hook to give UNLV a 33-28 lead heading into halftime.

The Rebels defense was monumental in the first half, accounting for four steals and eight blocks. The Rebels also dominated the glass, outrebounding the Aztecs 15-6 on defensive rebounds.

Emotions were high to start the second half when a foul committed on Kalib Boone caused San Diego State head coach Brian Dutcher to lose control on the sideline, resulting in a technical foul.

The Rebels continued to attack the basket. Luis Rodriguez started by drawing a shooting foul, which resulted in two free throws, and Thomas then converted a layup to put the Rebels up 42-32 with 14:06 remaining.

San Diego State kept fighting, with Elijah Saunders and Miles Byrd draining three 3-point shots to cut the Rebel lead to one. 

The Rebels continued to show no remorse on the defensive end, with Whaley Jr. and Kalib Boone swatting away shots in the paint. 

UNLV got the momentum on offense with Keylan Boone nailing a 3-pointer to give UNLV a 47-41 lead with 7:35.

“I gotta good point guard, I got good passers on my team that will find me,” Kalib Boone said. “They are encouraging me to shoot the ball, they see me putting my work in, and they understand I can shoot the ball.”

Rebel chants started echoing through the air as Rodriguez continued to convert from 3-point land. 

Rebel faithful rose to their feet after a monumental stop on the defensive end that transitioned into a 3-point basket by Thomas to extend the lead to 56-49 with 3:33 left.

“I thought the way the crowd came out tonight, the way the crowd has progressed over the last month and a half is a testament to just how well they’ve been playing in a UNLV jersey,” UNLV Head Coach Kevin Kruger said.

Seatbelts were mandatory in the final two minutes of the second half. LeDee missed two free throws, opening the door for the Rebels to run the shot clock. 

The Rebels struggled to capitalize on offense, giving the Aztecs another opportunity. Lamont Butler drained a 3-pointer to cut the Rebels lead to 58-56 with 1:06 to play. Butler responded with another layup to tie the game with 44 seconds left.

Madness erupted at Thomas & Mack Center after a stepback jumper by Thomas that gave the Rebels a 60-58 lead with 17 seconds left. The Aztecs had one last opportunity, but Kalib Boone blocked Micah Parrish’s 3-point shot, forcing the Aztecs to foul. 

Thomas made both free throws, icing the game for the Rebels to upset the No. 21 ranked San Diego State Aztecs 62-58.

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The Rebels are back on the road for its final away game to take on in-state rival, Nevada Wolf Pack. Tip-off will be at 7:30 p.m.

“We’re playing for something, we’re going to our arch rival up on their senior night,” Kruger said. “Still with alot to play for and guys know that and they deserve it. They earned it.”

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