A controversial call toward the conclusion of the team’s consolation game against Wichita State, left UNLV without a win in this year’s Roman Main Event.
The Runnin’ Rebels were beaten by the Shockers, 74-73, Sunday, Nov. 21 from the T-Mobile Arena in the consolation round of the RME.
“It obviously stings,” head coach Kevin Kruger said. “Stings anytime you’re in a close game. You feel the opposite way when you’re on the winning side and you feel pretty bad and tough on the losing side.”
Arizona were crowned champions of the tournament after beating Michigan earlier in the day.
After starting the season 3-0, UNLV has now lost back-to-back games.
“Proud of the guys for the fight and growth in these two games,” Kruger said. “Going toe-to-toe with two established programs. Hopefully it can be a boat of confidence, almost. We don’t do the morale victories but if anything kind of give them, as a group, an outlook for everyday in practice going forward.”
Yet, the team will continue it’s Las Vegas landslide as it will return to the Thomas & Mack Center for a Wednesday, Nov. 24 game against Whittier College.
“These last two certainly had an NCAA environment and feel to it,” Kruger said. “And I think going forward, if we can have this experience to go just get better. Because there’s no choice right now but to get back after it.” With UNLV up one, freshman guard Keshon Gilbert was called for a blocking foul near midcourt sending Wichita State’s Tyson Etienne to the line for two.
“I don’t know if I’d say we lost it because of the call,” Kruger said. “I am a firm believer that no one instance at the end of the game makes or breaks anything.”
Before that last sequence, the Rebels had endured a pretty rough last 11 minutes of game-time.
“[Wichita State] also did a really good job,” Kruger said. “[The Shockers] picked up their defensive intensity, they had some shots go in and we got a little stagnant.”
With 10:57 left in regulation, UNLV down five, both teams were shooting 61.5% from the field.
By the next stoppage, over four minutes later, there were a combined three points scored by both teams.
Wichita State eventually would go up by three in a game that UNLV led for more than 31 of them.
Over the next ten minutes, the Rebels would go without a field goal.
Senior guard Jordan McCabe also fouled out late in the game during UNLV’s field goal-less stress.
“It’s tough,” he said. “As a competitor, you want to be out there. I was extremely proud to watch Keshon go out there and do what he did.”
The trio of McCabe along with guards Mike Nuga and Bryce Hamilton kept UNLV alive for much of the game.
McCabe and Nuga scored 15 of the Rebels’ first 22 points.
Nuga ended the night with 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting.
In addition, the trio scored 24 of the team’s first 26 points.
“I think we did a great job all-around tonight,” McCabe said. “Guys found me in the right spots, I found them in the right spots and everybody was very, very unselfish. I think that’s going to really contribute to our offense -- it wasn’t the same as our first three games obviously.”
UNLV once led by as many as 10 points in the first half following a made three-pointer off an after-timeout play from Kruger and company.
The trio had 28 of the team’s 39 points at halftime, with the Shockers down eight.
McCabe flashed in the second half with his second behind-the-back pass for a tough finish.
He finished with 11 points with three made threes, eight assists and four steals.
Hamilton missed a layup late but it was cleaned up by Gilbert on a putback basket with 5.5 seconds left.
“I mean Keshon is a fighter,” Kruger said. “He’s a competitor. He plays with almost a child-like innocence that he just runs around and he just has fun. Fun for Keshon is competing.” Gilbert accounted for half of the Rebels’ 16 bench points.
McCabe said Gilbert “grew up a lot tonight.”
Hamilton struggled from the field going 4-of-12, finishing with a team-high 18 points.