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FSM Essential Recap: UNLV vs Utah State – Game 18

UNLV Runnin’ Rebels (12-6 / 1-5) | Utah State Aggies (15-4 / 4-2)

Franchise Sports Media

 

The Runnin’ Rebels have now lost three games in a row after losing another close game to the Utah State Aggies 75-71, dropping to 1-5 in MWC play

 

UNLV vs Utah State
Photo Credit: Kyla LaCoste/Franchise Sports Media

The Runnin’ Rebels started 1-4 in the Mountain West, and they needed to play desperately to regain the momentum that they lost, along with their defense trying to regain their early-season intensity.

UNLV’s starting lineup at Utah State was Keshon Gilbert, Justin Webster, E.J. Harkless, Luis Rodriguez, and Victor Iwuakor. David Muoka was out of the starting lineup in favor of Iwuakor.

UNLV’s first possession showcased their grit, obtaining two offensive rebounds. The hustle early on was appreciated, but the Aggies weren’t exactly locked in just yet.

Utah State did recover and scored on five of their first six possessions. Including two dunks and two layups. Utah State’s 7’1 center Trevin Dorius scored seven straight points as the Aggies jumped out in front 12-8. UNLV went small, with Iwuakor coming in for Muoka, and USU’s Dorius destroyed the Rebel defensive switches. Keyshawn Hall got the chance to play some reserve forward minutes as well.

Gilbert was an expert early on in the season at making crazily tough shots inside and seemed to lose that ability over the last few games. However, Gilbert scored back-to-back difficult shots inside to cut Utah State’s eight-point lead to four at 18-14 with 12:13 left in the first half.

Jackie Johnson is known to take some deep shots, some would say from Curry range, though this time it didn’t go his way, as he was way short, air balling a potential momentum-swinging three. 

Hall was ready to get his chance to shine, as he already had seven points after he splashed a three in the corner. Johnson redeemed himself with a nice floater inside to cut the Aggies’ lead to two. Iwuakor got a post hook to fall, and the game was all tied up at 28-28 with 7:25 remaining.

Throughout that run for the rebels, their main guy was on the bench. Harkless, who played the first five minutes, hadn’t checked back in since. It worked, though. The hard work and chemistry from Jordan McCabe, Johnson, and Iwuakor tied this game.

Muoka finally checked in past the 6:30 mark, despite rumors of him being out for this game. Nevertheless, it seemed he was dealing with some early-game jitters as his first possession ended in a turnover. Muoka’s struggles continued as he committed an offensive foul, Kevin Kruger developed a very short leash throughout this season, and Muoka was promptly subbed out.

Following that blunder, Utah State exploded onto a 9-0 run, decimating UNLV with triple after triple, courtesy of Taylor Funk, who was already at an astonishing five threes. That run put the Aggies back ahead at 38-32 with 3:45 left in the first half.

However, Hall can do all the offensive work he wants, but you’ve got to be solid on the defensive end. It’s understandable why Kruger hasn’t used him up to this point, as Steven Ashworth blew by him on defense and converted a three-point play.

 

At halftime, the score read Utah State 46, UNLV 37. After making seven shots in a row, UNLV went seven minutes without a score until Hall made a shot at the end of the half. Conversely, the Rebels struggled to defend the nation’s No. 1 shooting team. Funk already had six triples and 20 points.

 

UNLV vs San Francisco
Photo Credit: Alon Sowell/Franchise Sports Media

The Rebels came out with a different energy in the second half. As they kept the Aggies scoreless over the first three minutes, UNLV went on a 6-0 run, with back-to-back layups coming off of back-to-back forced turnovers.

Iwuakor tried to keep the intensity high, but sometimes he can be a little out of control, as he went up high for the signature LeBron James block off the glass, but he was a bit late and was called for goaltending. Harkless was also playing physically, but that only earned him his third foul of the game and another stint of being on the bench.

Hall continued his best offensive showing of the season with a little bully ball, as he easily absorbed the contact and converted a quality shot in the paint. UNLV also began to get their swagger back on defense, as they forced Utah State to turn the ball over 17 times, and the Rebels converted them into 23 points.

Hall got a bit ahead of himself as he pulled out a spin move to get another score inside, only this time, Dorius was there to swat it, which led to a bucket for Ashworth on the other end. With 11:26 left in regulation, UNLV still trailed 57-52.

McCabe was feeling himself after draining a three, and he had a few words for the student section at Utah State afterward. However, the adrenaline cooled a bit after Harkless committed his fourth foul of the game, this time on the offensive end. Kruger didn’t hesitate and pulled Harkless out with 10 minutes remaining.

McCabe kept it pouring, pump-faking a defender into the air, and stepping it back for another three-pointer. Harkless fouled out and was very upset, pushing for the refs to review the play. Somehow, the referee’s caved in and decided that the foul would be switched to Gilbert. That kept Harkless in the game.

UNLV briefly had a one-point lead, but an and-1 by Dan Akin had the Aggies ahead once more. McCabe would gift the Rebels with another one-point lead after Gilbert set him up for a solid look from three, and McCabe drained it with ease.

However, UNLV’s lead wouldn’t hold up, as Ashworth was left all alone from three. Hall was left chasing and couldn’t recover. Hall made another mistake as he committed an offensive foul. Though Akin did sell it, he sold it so well that it left Hall flabbergasted for a second. 

Sean Bairstow possibly made the biggest shot of the game. As with two seconds on the shot clock, he broke loose on an inbound and drained a jumper from the free throw line to put Utah State up 73-69 with just 21.9 seconds remaining.

Hall got his chance to be the hero but went nowhere as the Aggies clamped down on him. Luckily, he was bailed out by the referees. He made up for it by making two free throws to cut the lead to two. UNLV wasted the opportunity on their full-court press, as the Aggies were able to drain most of the clock, with the Rebels chasing for a steal.

UNLV settled for the foul, and Utah State had themselves a four-point lead. The Rebels had one last chance for a miracle three, but they couldn’t convert. The Aggies held the Rebels scoreless over the final 2:30 of regulation. The final score read Utah State 75, UNLV 71.

 

Runnin’ Takeaways

 

UNLV vs Utah State
Photo Credit: Kyla LaCoste/Franchise Sports Media

Defending the three-point line is a problem for UNLV. Utah State made 11-25 from deep (44%) and shot better than 50% from the field. Their Mountain West opponents now shoot 40.6% from beyond the arc.

Freshman Hall scored 19 points on 6-11 FGs, and fifth-year guard McCabe added 17 points on 5-7 3PMs. Harkless played just 12 and a half minutes and finished with two points. Gilbert finished with 14 points, five assists, and three steals.

Ashworth had 14 points, five rebounds, and nine assists. Funk had 20 points on 6-9 3PMs, six rebounds, and five assists but was held scoreless in the second half. Dorius had 10 points but totaled zero rebounds as a seven-footer.

Kruger, on UNLV’s 1-5 start in Mountain West play, told reporters, “I think we’ve done enough to win some of those games. Some of those five losses, I think we’ve done enough to put ourselves in position to win a couple of them. But we didn’t.”

 

Don’t forget to go out and support the Runnin’ RebelsClick here to get your UNLV Runnin’ Rebels tickets! 

 

The Runnin’ Rebels will now take on Fresno State Tuesday, January 21st, at 3:00 pm PT. The game will be available on the CBS Sports Network.

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-Jake Ideguchi-Furukawa – Franchise Sports Media

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