The combination of Keshon Gilbert and EJ Harkless down-the-stretch in the team’s most recent outing resulted in UNLV knocking off an non-conference ranked team for the first time since 2014.
UNLV downed the No. 21 Dayton Flyers, 60-52, Tuesday, Nov. 15 from the Thomas & Mack Center. The 52 points allowed is the lowest through the first three games of the season for the Rebels.
Coming into the game, UNLV allowed 59.5 points per game on defense. Dayton averaged 73.5 in their two games played this year.
“[The coaches] have been talking about adversity all week,” Harkless said. “I think that was the first adversity we’ve hit in a real game. It was our first time being down in three games and I think we responded well.”
In his second year, head coach Kevin Kruger picks up a resume-building win while his UNLV squad improves to 3-0 for the second straight season
“[This game] came up early on the schedule,” he said. “I just think it’s great for the guys to get it early to have this opportunity to use this as a springboard going forward.”
The matchup with the Flyers marked the third of four straight contests at home to start the year for the Rebels. The team will conclude the stretch with a game against High Point Friday, Nov. 18.
Tip-off is slated for 7 p.m. from the T&M Center.
“It’s a good win for us early to get,” Harkless said. “But we put it in the bank and we’re focused on High Point on Friday. We’re not going to let this get to us too much. We expected to come in and do that so onto the next game.”
UNLV used a 38-20 second half to steal a big win away from the Atlantic-10 preseason favorites. The second half surge came after falling behind by double-digits on two separate occasions including being down 10 at halftime.
“We didn’t change a lot,” Kruger said. “We just brought things to [the players’] attention. I felt like we did a good job in the first half but we allowed some things that were a little uncharacteristic of what we’re trying to do.”
Back-to-back three-pointers from guards Luis Rodriguez and Justin Webster cut the once double-figure lead down to three. Two free throws from Gilbert cut it to one while a layup from Harkless tied the game at 38 apiece.
At the 10:53-mark of the second half, Gilbert gave the Rebels their first second half lead of the game. He added a three-pointer followed by another from Harkless to put six points of distance between its opponent.
Harkless ultimately made another midrange jumper to give the home team a 10-point lead, its largest of the night.
“Defense creates offense,” Harkless said. “That’s what we try to do so I mean, everybody wants to score so we’re going to defend and that’s what we did.”
While down double digits in the first half, Harkless had a string of plays that kept his team in it. His and-one conversion cut the deficit to six while his lone first half three-pointer trimmed it to three.
“My team always believes in me,” Harkless said. “I just take [that] they believe in me and went out there and did it. The first two games they believed in me [as well] but [scoring] wasn’t something that was needed. They helped me get the confidence to do it tonight.”
Harkless finished with a game-high 24 points on 9-of-19 from the field including three made threes to go along with six rebounds and three assists. Gilbert poured in 16 points on 6-of-9 from the floor with two treys added to three assists and three steals.
Both, Harkless and Gilbert, were the only two players in double-figures for UNLV.
In order to secure the win, the Rebels put the clamps on the Flyers, holding the team without a field goal for the final 6:45 of regulation.
“That’s something that we worked on all summer,” Harkless said. “We talked about that at halftime, offensive rebounds, they had them going. That was the thing, we stopped them on the initial shot. We just did a better job at rebounding.”
Dayton was stymied to the tune of 25% shooting in the second half after posting a 46% in the first.
Forward Victor Iwuakor made a big defensive stand on back-to-back plays. The first was by knocking the ball away, forcing a three-point heave at the end of the shot clock while his second stop forced a traveling violation.
“Victor, in general, is a high-energy guy,” center David Muoka said. “Whether he’s coming in for me or I’m playing beside him, he’s always going to have the energy and that’s something we look to have as a team, one through five.”
On offense, Iwuakor got a hanging hook shot to fall to give the Rebels a five-point lead late in the second half.
As a team, UNLV forced Dayton into 24 turnovers, marking the three straight games that the team has forced 20 or more turnovers. In fact, the Flyers didn’t score its first basket of the game until the 16:36-mark of the first half, as the Rebels built a 7-2 lead.
However, turnovers on the other side of the floor allowed the visitors to get back into the game.
Turnovers plus long scoring droughts forced UNLV behind the eight-ball as Dayton went on a 17-2 run to take control of the game.
At that time, the Rebels went scoreless for more than two minutes. Later in the half, the team would go without a point for nearly five and a half minutes.
“They enjoy making plays for each other,” Kruger said. “Sometimes, almost to a fault. When we’re turning it over too much, we’re trying to create for someone instead of taking the shot or doing something to protect it.”
UNLV managed to slow down in the second half, committing just seven turnovers after handing over 10 in the first 20 minutes of play.
“We just locked in on taking care of the ball and being strong with the ball,” Gilbert said. “Really just treating every possession like it was the last possession.”