Runnin’ Rebels drop third straight conference game

Source: Eric Draper/Associated Press

UNLV Runnin’ Rebels traveled in the snow to Logan, Utah for their sixth conference game of the season on Tuesday. The Utah State Aggies defeated the Rebels by a score of 75–71, handing UNLV (12-6, 1-5) their third straight defeat.

David Muoka was benched and Victor Iwuakor was given his first start at center by head coach Kevin Kruger. Iwuakor took advantage of the opportunity and dunked over an Aggie defender to give the Rebels an early 4-2 lead. With 16 minutes left in the first half, the Aggies were inspired and went on a 10-0 run to take a 12-4 lead. The Aggies led 23-18 with 10 minutes remaining in the half. With six minutes left in the half, the Rebels went on a 14-7 run to take a 32-29 lead, their largest of the half.

But after that, Tyler Funk put on a show as he went on an 11-0 run by himself to give the Aggies their first lead back at 40-32. With less than a minute left, free throws from Iwuakor and Keshawn Hall reduced the Aggies’ lead to 40-35. The Aggies answered with an old school three-point play, to which the Rebels responded with a layup by Hall. Funk then made a three-pointer to put the Aggies ahead 46-37 at the break.

In the first half, Funk scored 20 points on 78% of his shots. Trevin Dorius scored 10 points on 100% shooting in the first half against the Rebels, so it wasn’t just Funk who had a strong half for the Aggies. As a whole, the Aggies’ offense was on fire, and they outshot the Rebels in every category.

Kruger said to give Funk credit for his hot shooting start, but that he was looking for better defense against him from his team.

“He is shooting it really well with a lot of confidence,” Kruger said. “We’ve just got to do a better job of closing out and taking that air space away.”

Fortunately for the Rebels, Hall scored 13 points off the bench for them. Otherwise, the game would have been lost by half time. Kruger went to Hall because, according to him, their offense lacked a spark.

“We needed a spark and he did a great job of providing that,” Kruger said. 

​​The Rebels went on a run after the half and appeared to be a different team. The Rebels were able to go on an 8-0 run because they kept the Aggies scoreless for the first five minutes of the second half. Jordan McCabe made a three-pointer to cut into the Aggies’ lead with 13 minutes left in the game. With an immediate 4-0 run, the Aggies came back to give themselves some breathing room. With 10 minutes left, McCabe made another three-pointer to cut the Aggies’ lead to 57-55. It seemed as if he wasn’t going to let this one get away.

The Rebels were losing 65-60 with five minutes left in the game. However, in typical Rebel fashion, they went on a 6-0 run to take a 66-65 lead in the second half. The Rebels needed to make a stop because they were trailing 71-69 with less than 30 seconds left. With two seconds left on the shot clock, they managed to accomplish this by forcing the Aggies to call a timeout. They only needed a stop, but Sean Bairstow had other ideas. He made a difficult jump shot to put this game out of reach.

his game ended in a 75–71 defeat for the Rebels. As they kept Dorius and Funk scoreless in the final 20 minutes, the Rebels showed marked improvement defensively in the second half. Due to their offensive inconsistencies, Justin Webster and Elijah Harkless hurt the Rebels. Even though they fought bravely in an unfriendly environment, their losing streak continued with the 75-71 defeat.

Key Performers

  • Forward Keyshawn Hall finished the game with 19 points and two rebounds off the bench. 
  • Guard Jordan McCabe contributed 17 points, one assist, and two steals off the bench.
  • Guard Keshon Gilbert tallied 14 points, three rebounds, five assists, and three steals. 

On Jan. 21, the Rebels will play the Fresno State Bulldogs in Fresno, California. Both teams are near the bottom of the Mountain West standings and are riding three-game losing streaks.

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