The UNLV Runnin’ Rebels fell to the Boise State Broncos in overtime 87-76 in the Mountain West Championship Tournament quarterfinal round on March 9.
The Runnin’ Rebels came back down by 16 points at the end of the first half to take the game to overtime.
“Could have very easily let it get out of hand or kind of let it go the other direction,” UNLV Head Coach Kevin Kruger said. “Unbelievable job competing to chip away at it, and they believed in every huddle, every dead ball the way they were communicating.”
The scoring leaders for the Rebels included EJ Harkless with a team-high 18 points, and Justin Webster knocked down five 3-pointers totaling 15 points.
“I appreciate my teammates for allowing me to be a leader on this team and coach believing in me,” Harkless said.
Marcus Shaver Jr. led the Broncos to score three 3-pointers in a 16-point performance and Tyson Degenhart was a key contributor with 14 points and eight rebounds. The Boise State Broncos started the game electric from beyond the arc, splashing three 3-pointers in the Broncos’ first three possessions to take a 9-0 lead.
Webster scored the Runnin’ Rebels’ first points with a corner 3-pointer to cut the Broncos’ early lead to 9-3.
Shaver Jr. splashed his second 3-pointer of the game to extend the Broncos’ lead to 12-3. The Runnin’ Rebels bounced back with a seven-point run which included five points by Keshon Gilbert off of a 3-pointer and layup to make the game 14-10.
The Broncos cut off the Rebels’ run with a nine-point run led by Chibuzo Agbo, knocking down two 3-pointers and creating a four-point play on the second one, and drawing a foul to give the Broncos a 23-10 lead.
The Broncos extended its lead in the backend of the first half with Naje Smith penetrating the rim, dunking the ball twice, drawing a foul on the second one creating a three-point play to make the score 34-16.
The Broncos stayed hot beyond the arc splashing four more 3-pointers to extend its lead to 48-26.
The 10 3-pointers before the end of the half put the Broncos on pace to pass the Mountain West Tournament single-game record of 17 3-pointers.
In the closing two minutes of the first half, the Rebels outscored the Broncos 9-2 to end the first half cutting the Broncos’ lead to 50-34.
At halftime, the Utah State student section started to enter the Thomas & Mack early for the Aggies game against the New Mexico Lobos and began to root for UNLV and participated in the Rebel Chant with the UNLV band to kick off the second half.
“We just showed up and realized that we hated Boise State,” Utah State student Kyle Davie said. “We just wanted to help UNLV win as much as we could.”
The Rebels used the extra energy generated from Davie and the Aggies student section to create a 12-point run highlighted by a dunk by Muaka to make the score 56-52 with just over 12 minutes to go in regulation.
“The goal was to go out and chip away at it, chip away at it,” Kruger said. “I just felt like that first half we were just chasing a little bit and just our readiness and alertness needed to start off better each possession, and undoubtedly it did.”
The Rebels stayed hot from beyond the arc, and Luis Rodriguez knocked down a 3-pointer to make the score 58-55 with just under 11 minutes remaining in regulation. Even though the Broncos were on track to score a Mountain West Tournament record, 20 3-pointers at the end of the first half, the Runnin’ Rebels finished the game outshooting the Broncos 14 to 13 from beyond the arc.
“We was moving the ball and guys were able to get easy looks,” Webster said. “I think that’s what contributed for us to get a lot of shooting threes in the second half.” A technical foul by Harkless gave momentum to the Broncos, creating a 3-point play for Max Rice to start the backend of the second half extending the Broncos’ lead to 63-58. Webster kept the Rebels within one possession with a 3-pointer with just over seven minutes in regulation to make the score 63-61.
Harkless gave the Rebels its first lead of the game with a little over four minutes remaining, drawing contact on a layup to make the score 67-65.
“We’ve been hit with a lot of adversity this year, injuries, everything. We didn’t let that define us,” Harkless said. “We always fought back and that was our biggest message.” The Broncos took back the lead in the following possession with a 3-pointer by Naje Smith to make the score 68-67.
With the score 72-70 entering the final minute of play, Harkless slipped while taking the ball up the court and Shaver Jr. picked up the steal for the Broncos.
Webster fouled Shaver Jr. immediately to put Shaver Jr. on the line to shoot two free throws with 13.1 seconds remaining.
Shaver Jr. made one of the two free throws to make the game 73-70 to give the Rebels one possession to tie the game.
In the final possession of the regulation, Shane Nowell made a fade-away 3-point shot from the corner to tie the game at 73-73 and send the game to overtime.
Smith started the overtime by splashing a 3-pointer to give the Broncos a 76-73 lead. Webster cut the deficit to one point with a jump shot to make the score 76-75. The Broncos extended its lead with a jump shot by Agbo and Smith making one of his two free
throws after drawing a foul to make the score 79-75 with under two minutes to go in the game.
Degenhart extended the Broncos’ lead with a floater to make the score 81-76. The Rebels self-destructed in the final minute of play, with Harkless committing his second
technical foul, taking him out of the game. Rice and Smith made all their foul shots to give the Broncos an 85-76 lead in the last 30 seconds of play.
The Broncos took control in overtime and won the game 87-76.
Even though it was a loss on the score sheet, Kruger was proud of his team’s effort in the game.
“Couldn’t be more proud of them,” Kruger said. “I think the second half was certainly the representation that the team deserves to be kind of remembered by, just how hard they fought and how much they competed.”
If UNLV does not get a postseason bid from the NCAA National Basketball Tournament or the National Invitation Tournament (NIT), the Runnin’ Rebels season will end with a 19-13 overall record and a 7-11 conference record.
“I still think they should be remembered as a group that competed like crazy,” Kruger said. “I think every night, [the] guys battled, they fought. Down big, made big runs. Had some really good wins. Had some really good road wins.”