No love for Runnin’ Rebels on Valentine’s Day, lose to Spartans

Source: Eric Draper/Associated Press

On Valentine’s Day, the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels hosted the San Jose Spartans for their 14th conference game of the season. In their first meeting earlier in the season, the Spartans prevailed. With a score of 75-66, the Spartans defeated the Rebels in the sequel as well. Now, the Rebels are 5-9 in the Mountain West and 16-10 overall.

Head coach Kevin Kruger said his team battled at times, but it wasn’t enough for a win.

“We made a good push in the second half,” Kruger said. “It was just kind of not enough, I guess.”

Luis Rodriguez, one of the Rebels’ best players, was absent due to an injury sustained against the SDSU Aztecs. Early in the first half, Justin Webster made a three-pointer to give the Rebels a 5-0 lead. With Webster’s three-pointer, the Rebels’ streak of games with a made three-pointer reached 1,187. The Rebels were ahead 10-9 with 15 minutes left in the first half. With nine minutes remaining in the half, Webster made a stepback jump shot to put the Rebels ahead 18-17.

With eight minutes remaining, the Spartans went on a 7-2 run to take the lead once again at 24-20. The officials allowed Keshon Gilbert a continuation after he made a layup through contact. To give the Rebels a 25-24 advantage once more, GIlbert made the free throw. With four minutes left in the half, the Spartans retaliated with an 11-3 run to take the lead over the Runnin’ Rebels once again at 35-28. As the shot clock ran out, Elijah Harkless made a jump shot to reduce the Spartans’ lead to 40-36 at the break.

With nine points, three rebounds, and two assists at the half, Harkless led the Rebels. Even though the Rebels’ offense was shooting reasonably well, they were unable to stop the Spartans. The Spartans shot 43% from three-point range and 52% from the field. Similar to their first encounter, the Spartans were significantly outrebounding the Rebels.

Kruger said during halftime he told his team that he wanted them to make life harder on the Spartan offense.

“We definitely wanted to get into the ball and bother it a little more,” Kruger said.

Gilbert made a jump shot to cut the Spartans’ lead to 42-40, which was the closest the Rebels could get. Harkless made a layup to pull the Rebels to within one possession with 14 minutes remaining. With a 6-0 run in response, the Spartans increased their advantage to 54-46 and shut out the Rebels for three minutes. With 11 minutes remaining in the half, Gilbert broke the Rebels’ dry spell with a layup, cutting the Spartans’ lead to 54-48. The Spartans then made a three to increase their margin to 57-48. In response, the Rebels went on a 5-0 run to reduce the Spartans’ lead to 57-53. The Spartans went on a 10-0 run to extend their lead to 67-53, despite the Rebels appearing to gain some momentum as a result.

The Runnin’ Rebels were held without a point for five minutes by the Spartans, a reflection on how this game went. The Rebels lost to the Spartans, losing their ninth Mountain West game of the year despite displaying some heart late in the game. When it mattered, the Rebels’ offense sputtered and failed to generate any momentum. The Spartans outshot the Rebels offensively in every way. The biggest distinction, however, was the Spartans’ significant advantage in the rebounding margin. The Spartans outrebounded the Rebels by 12 in this game, just like earlier in the season.

Kruger said despite the lack of results, he feels like his team is still giving all out effort.

“Like I said, we had a lot of really good possessions but it just didn’t have that final touch to it,” Kruger said. 

Key Performers

  • Guard Elijah Harkless finished with a game-high 19 points. He also added four rebounds, two assists, and one steal.
  • Guard Keshon Gilbert tallied 13 points, seven rebounds, three assists, and three steals. 

The Rebels will next travel to Boise, Idaho, on Feb. 19, to take on the Boise State Broncos in an effort to seek vengeance for their previous loss this season.

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