Runnin’ Rebels squander first half lead, get swept by Fresno State

Source: Chase Stevens/Associated Press

The Fresno State Bulldogs visited the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels Friday, the Rebels’ 11th conference match of the season. The Bulldogs defeated the Rebels 82-79 after the Rebels blew a halftime lead. UNLV had won three straight entering the game and are now 15-8 overall and 4-7 in the Mountain West. The Bulldogs’ win is their second against UNLV this season.

UNLV head coach Kevin Kruger said this wasn’t the result they wanted.

“Just couldn’t get a rhythm going defensively,” Kruger said. “Couldn’t get them off balance and force them into shots that would’ve been good for us.”

The Rebels struggled early on, scoring just two points in the first three minutes of play, which allowed the Bulldogs to go on a 7-2 run. With 16 minutes left in the first half, Shane Norwell connected on a three-pointer to reduce the Bulldogs’ lead to 9-8. Norwell’s make extended the Rebels’ record to 1,184 straight contests with a made three-pointer. With 14 minutes remaining in the first half, Elijah Harkless made a three-pointer of his own to cap an 11-4 run and put the Rebels ahead 13-11.

Harkless made another three-pointer to tie the score at 21 during the ensuing minutes as the game remained close. Elijah Parquet made a layup through contact with three minutes remaining in the half as the Rebels were running out in transition. Following the continuation given by the referee, he converted the free throw to complete the traditional three-point play. The Bulldogs responded with a 7-2 run, cutting the Rebels’ lead to 37-35.

Keshon Gilbert made a layup with less than 30 seconds remaining in the half to give the Rebels their largest lead of the game at 43-35. However, the Bulldogs answered with a layup of their own to reduce the Rebels’ lead to 43-37 at the break. In the first half, both teams made exactly the same number of field goals, but the Rebels’ eight extra free throws were the key difference. Together, Gilbert and Harkless scored 24 points, which was more than half of what the Rebels scored in the opening period.

The Bulldogs went on a 7-0 run to retake the lead 44-43 after the break. With a three-pointer, Luis Rodriguez gave the Rebels a 46-44 lead. With 10 minutes left in the game, Victor Iwuakor made a layup through a foul and made the ensuing free throw to give the Rebels a 62-57 advantage.

Six minutes remained in the game, and the Bulldogs answered with an 8-0 run to go ahead 65-62. Following this, the Bulldogs didn’t look back and kept their lead for the remainder of the contest. The Bulldogs made more three-pointers than either team did, which proved to be the difference between the two teams.

Rodriguez said the biggest factor on why the lead slipped through the Rebels’ hands was defense.

“They got comfortable and shot 53% from three,” Rodriguez said. “Just finding our man and executing defensively.”

Key Performers

  • Guard Elijah Harkless finished with a game-high 27 points. He also added four rebounds, four assists, one block, and one steal.
  • Guard Keshon Gilbert totaled 19 points, five rebounds, three assists, and a steal. 

On Feb. 8, the Rebels play the Wyoming Cowboys for their next conference matchup in Laramie, Wyoming.

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