Runnin’ Rebels bounce back, win final non-conference game

Source: Chase Stevens/Associated Press

The UNLV Runnin’ Rebels defeated the Southern Miss Golden Eagles in their last non-conference contest. The Rebels are now 11-1 going into Mountain West play, as they were able to win this one 74-63.

The Rebels’ offense sputtered early on; their first field goal didn’t come until 17 minutes remained in the first half. However, Luis Rodriguez’s three-pointer gave them the opportunity to score and cut the Golden Eagles’ advantage to 4-3. Rodriguez’s three increased the Rebels record to 1,173 straight games with a made three-pointer.

Both teams traded shots for the remainder of the half. Neither team was pulling away. The Golden Eagles were leading 33-32 at the half. In the first half, the Golden Eagles shot 50% from the field while the Rebels shot 38%. Fortunately for the Rebels, their 36% three-point shooting kept them in this game compared to the Golden Eagles’ 11% mark. Additionally, the Rebels’ defense caused 12 turnovers to help slow down the Golden Eagles offense.

A David Muoka alley-oop gave the Rebels the first points of the second half and the lead. The Golden Eagles then came back with an 8-2 run to retake the lead at 41-36. A Golden Eagles field goal extended their lead to 43-40 with 15 minutes remaining, and it would be the team’s last made basket for the ensuing five minutes.

To retake the lead and take charge of the game, the Rebels buckled down and went on a 15-0 run to go up 55-43. They had the biggest lead of the match at this point, and things were going well. But as we should be aware, the Rebels don’t always like to maintain their sizable leads.

The Golden Eagles cut the Rebels’ lead to 61-56 with four minutes left. The Rebels immediately responded with a 7-0 run to give themselves some breathing room, leading 68-56. Rodriguez said that learning from their loss to not get complacent helped them go on the 15-0 run.

“We knew it was going to be a fight for the whole game and to stick with what we do,” Rodriguez said. “Stay locked in, rebound, go out and run, and just make plays.”

And in contrast to their first loss of the season, the Rebel offense was able to win this one 74-63. Although the Rebels’ offense slowed down, their free-throw shooting still allowed them to win this game comfortably. In the second half, they shot 20 more free throws than the Golden Eagles did. The Rebels forced a total of 25 turnovers throughout the entire game on defense.

Head coach Kevin Kruger said he saw the team really pick it up during the second half and do the little things right.

“We really played as much as we have this year for each other (in the second half),” Kruger said. “It doesn’t matter who starts the fire, it’s about putting it out, and in the second half I thought we did that.”

Key Performers 

  • Guard Elijah Harkless led the Rebels with 19 points. He also added seven rebounds, six assists, and four steals.
  • Guard Luis Rodriguez finished the night with 18 points, seven rebounds, one assist, and four steals. He also made five three-pointers, a career high.
  • Guard Justin Webster totaled 12 points and a rebound. 

The Rebels start Mountain West play by visiting the San Jose State Spartans on New Year’s Eve. Kruger said that he is encouraging his team to get off their feet and get their minds off basketball during Christmas.

“We are really encouraging the guys to go home, take a breather, kick their feet up,” Kruger said. “Get their body right and be ready to get after it on the 26th.”

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