Runnin’ Rebels lose overtime heartbreaker against CSU Rams

Source: Chase Stevens/Associated Press

The Colorado State Rams were the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels’ fifth Mountain West Conference opponent of the season, taking on the visitors from Fort Collins, Colorado at home Saturday. The Rebels came up short and suffered their second straight loss following a fierce battle that needed overtime to to determine a winner. The Rebels lost to the Rams 82-81, dropping their season record to 12-5 overall and 1-4 in the Mountain West.

Head coach Kevin Kruger said that losing the game stung, but their effort was better than last game.

“We did a lot of great things to give ourselves a chance to win the game,” Kruger said. “I thought it was much better intent and effort from Wednesday night’s game.”

The Rebels went on a 5-0 run in the first three minutes of the game. After that, Justin Webster hit a three-pointer to make the score 8-3 in their favor. With the three, Rebels’ record for consecutive games with at least one made three-pointer is now 1,178.

The Rebels had a 13-3 advantage after the opening five minutes. Early in the game, it appeared as though the Runnin’ Rebels would win, but the Rams had other ideas. With nine minutes left in the half, the Rams went on a 16-2 run to go up 19-15. The Rams then went on a 7-4 run to increase their lead to 26-19, their largest of the half.

With two minutes left in the half, the Rebels responded with their own 10-3 run to tie the score at 29. The Rebels called a timeout to set up a play when they were trailing 35-31 with 20 seconds left in the half. They designed a play for Webster, and he converted a three-pointer to cut the Rams’ lead to 35-34 at the break. The Rams outshot the Rebels in every metric during the first half, but the Rebels kept it close by making four more free throws than the Rams.

With 13 minutes left in the game, the game was tied at 46 as they traded baskets coming out of half. The Rebels eventually took a 52-46 lead, their first since the beginning of the first half, thanks to back-to-back three-pointers from Elijah Harkless and Webster. With an 8-2 run in response, the Rams leveled the score at 54. The game was tied at 64 with a minute remaining.

With eight seconds left, Harkless and Luis Rodriguez made four straight free throws to give the Rebels a 68-64 lead. With five seconds left in the game, Isaiah Stevens immediately made a three-pointer to cut the Rebels’ lead to 68-67. Harkless was fouled by the Rams, and he converted both of his free throws to make it 70-67. With just two seconds left in the match it appeared as though the Rebels had won. However, the Rams came up with the perfect play for Stevens, and he connected on a three-pointer with time expiring to knot the score at 70 and force overtime.

The first four points were scored by Harkless, giving the Rebels a 74-70 lead. However, with three minutes left in overtime, the Rams tied the game at 74. Towards the end of overtime, the Rebels were ahead 80-76. With less than 20 seconds left in the game, Stevens made a three-pointer to cut the Rebels’ lead to 80-79. Jordan McCabe was fouled by the Rams, and it paid off because McCabe only converted one of his free throws. The ball was then passed to Stevens by the Rams after pushing down the court. Stevens made the three-pointer that won the game. The Rams won after the Runnin’ Rebels recovered possession of the ball but made a costly turnover.

Kruger said it will be tough to bounce back from this game, but he knows the team will come in on Monday and continue to work.

“Wake up tomorrow, take a deep breath, and get back in the gym,” Kruger said. “We just have to keep working so that the ball does bounce in our direction.” 

The shooting disparity was the biggest difference between the teams as the Rams outshot the Rebels by a wide margin and the Rebels’ defense struggled to stop hot shooting runs.

Key Performers

  • Guard Elijah Harkless finished with a game-high 33 points. He also contributed with nine rebounds, three assists, and two steals. 
  • Guard Justin Webster finished the game with 15 points and one rebound. 
  • Guard Luis Rodriguez tallied 12 points, five rebounds, four steals, one assist, and one block. 

On Jan. 17, the Rebels travel to Logan, Utah to take on the Utah State Aggies. With the Rebels losing ground in the Mountain West title race, the road matchup against the Aggies will be a big one.

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