Rebels vs UNR

Steve Marcus

UNLV guard Dedan Thomas Jr., left, leaves the court after the Rebels’ 69-66 loss to UNR during the second half of an NCAA basketball game at the Thomas & Mack Center Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024.

With five minutes left in UNLV’s Saturday night showdown against UNR, the Scarlet and Gray were tied for first place in the Mountain West standings.

By the time the final buzzer sounded, they had tumbled all the way to seventh, as UNR stormed back from a nine-point deficit for a stunning 69-66 win at the Thomas & Mack Center.

It’s a painful loss for Kevin Kruger’s squad, and not just because the Wolf Pack are UNLV’s biggest rival.

Had UNLV held on for the victory, it would have improved the team’s conference record to 8-4, putting them in a four-way tie for first in the loss column. At 7-5, however, they are on the wrong side of a sixth-place tiebreaker with UNR.

That’s a long way to drop based on one result, but that’s life in the Mountain West — the margin for error is thin, especially for a team like UNLV, which is trying to make up for early stumbles in conference play.

It was a game UNLV should have won. They led for most of the night, and when Jackie Johnson hit a corner 3 with 5:31 remaining, it gave the home team a seemingly safe 62-53 advantage.

The wheels came off from that point, and it happened on the defensive end. UNR shot 40.4% for the first 36 minutes, but with the game on the line, the Pack scored on their final seven possessions, converting four layups while making 6-of-6 from the free-throw line to overcome the deficit.

Kruger said the defensive breakdown came when UNLV lost its edge.

“We just kind of got timid,” Kruger said. “We fouled too much. What had gotten us there, we just need to keep that aggressiveness and that same level of intensity.”

UNLV committed 23 fouls on the night, and UNR took advantage by making 22-of-26 from the line.

It was a heavily-whistled affair — UNLV also shot 23 free throws — but Kruger didn’t take issue with the calls, insisting in his postgame press conference that “a foul is a foul.”

Kruger was more concerned with the way it affected his players.

“When you foul on multiple possessions, when you foul multiple times on one possession, sometimes that can happen,” he said. “We got a little timid and gave up too many easy buckets today.”

UNLV still had its chances. Freshman guard D.J. Thomas hit a short jumper to put UNLV in front, 64-63, with 1:16 on the clock, but UNR went ahead on the next possession when Nick Davidson collected an offensive rebound and dished to Daniel Foster for an uncontested layup.

Thomas drove and was fouled with 20 seconds left. He missed both, and UNR grabbed the rebound. Wolf Pack guard Jarod Lucas made 4-of-4 from the line to keep UNLV at bay.

The Scarlet and Gray had an opportunity to tie at the buzzer, but Keylan Boone’s stepback 3 was off-target.

Lucas finished with 18 points, while Davidson led UNR with 19 points and 11 rebounds.

Thomas played a superlative game, posting 19 points and eight assists, but his missed free throws overshadowed that stat line. To rub a little salt in the wound, Thomas had made 26 of his last 28 free throws before those consequential misfires.

UNLV will attempt to get back on track on Wednesday, when they travel to take on an Air Force team that beat them by 32 points earlier this season.

Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at

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