Runnin’ Rebels continue incredible start, advance to 5-0

Source: Chase Stevens/Associated Press

The UNLV men’s basketball team traveled to Southern California to compete in the SoCal Challenge, a non-conference tournament. The Runnin’ Rebels defeated the Southern Illinois Salukis 56-49 in their opening round matchup, improving to 5-0 on the year. UNLV is now 5-1 all-time against the Salukis.

Before getting into the game breakdown, the Rebels made history early in the first half. The Rebels established an NCAA record by making a three-pointer in 1,166 straight games following a three-pointer by guard Keshon Gilbert. For the first seven minutes of the game, the Salukis went on a 11-3 run while the Rebels had just one field goal.

The Salukis made a three-pointer with eight minutes left in the first half to increase their lead to 20-11. They then extended their advantage over the Rebels to 22-11 with a layup on the following possession. The Rebels’ deficit at this point in the game was their largest. With 20 seconds left in the half, Rebel forward Victor Iwuakor’s jump shot trimmed the Salukis’ lead to 28-26. The Salukis then retaliated with a layup of their own to increase their lead going into halftime to 30-26.

The Rebels’ underwhelming offense, the usual suspect, was to blame for their deficit at the break. The Rebels’ field goal and three-point shooting percentages were a dismal 34% and 30%, respectively, while the Salukis shot 46% from beyond the arc and 63% from the field overall. The Rebels’ strong defense allowed these unusually high shooting percentages, but they came back to life in the second half.

The Rebels tied the game at 30 at the start of the second half with back-to-back jumpers. With 13 minutes left in the game, both teams scored 11 points to tie the score at 41. The Rebels took the lead back with a 5-0 run after the Salukis went on a 4-0 run to go ahead 45-41. The Salukis scored just four points in the final seven minutes of the game as the Rebels’ defense shut everything down for the remainder of the contest. With a final 15-4 run, the Rebels defeated the Salukis 56-49.

The Rebels’ success in this game was due to improvements on both their offense and defense. They increased their shooting percentage from 34% in the first half to 59% in the second. Their staunch defense forced 21 turnovers and held the Salukis to a 28% field goal percentage in the second half. The Rebels’ defense has forced at least 20 turnovers in each of their contests.

Key Performers

  • Guard Keshon Gilbert led the Rebels with 18 points. He also added five rebounds, one assist, and two steals. 
  • Guard Elijah Harkless finished the night with 16 points, one rebounds, and one assist. 
  • Guard Luis Rodriguez added 14 points, five rebounds, two assists, and two steals. 
  • Gilbert, Harkless, and Rodriguez accounted for 85% of the Rebels points. 

The Runnin’ Rebels’ will look to build off their 5-0 start by finishing their Southern California trip against the Minnesota Golden Gophers on Nov. 23. Both teams won their first game in the SoCal Challenge Tournament.

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