A wild finish to both regulation and overtime resulted in the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels dropping an early conference must-win game as it dropped to three games under .500 in Mountain West play.
UNLV fell just short in a home contest to Colorado State, 82-81, Saturday, Jan. 14 from the Thomas & Mack Center. Entering play, the Rebels were eighth in the Mountain West while hosting the 10th place team.
“Obviously, that one stings a little bit,” head coach Kevin Kruger said. “[We] did a lot of great things to give ourselves a chance to win the game.”
With the loss, UNLV is now 1-4 in its last five games and 2-5 in the team’s last seven outings after starting the year 10-0.
Overall, the team is 12-5 this year and 1-4 in the Mountain West. Four of the team’s five losses have come on its homecourt.
Currently, the team is slotted 10th in the conference standings.
“We’re not in the spot that we want to be,” fifth-year guard EJ Harkless said. “But we’re an older team and I know we’re going to get ourselves out of it. It’s just a matter of putting it together right now.”
Needing some wind in their sails, the Rebels will head to the road for back-to-back contests beginning with the Utah State Aggies Tuesday, Jan. 17. Tip-off is scheduled for 6 p.m.
“It’s tough,” Kruger said. “We’ve all been through it. All the guys have had tough losses in their career, wherever it may be. You kind of have to just go back to those times and wake up tomorrow, take a deep breath and get back in the gym. That’s all we can do right now.”
Colorado State guard Isaiah Stevens came up big time and time again for the visitors, lifting the visitors to a big conference win.
The first jaw-dropping sequence came to conclude regulation when Stevens' three banked in from near halfcourt to erase a three-point deficit and send the game into overtime as time expired. Prior to the made basket, the Rams had just over two seconds left to get the shot off.
“Making him throw an overhead pass from 45-foot was a pretty good look,” Kruger said. “If we’re saying that that’s a normal shot that’s going to be made, I think we’d be kidding ourselves.”
Stevens’ best moments were ahead of him as he hit a three with less than 25 seconds left in overtime to cut UNLV’s lead to one. That shot gave him 30 points on the night. Last season from the T&M, Stevens put up 35 points in a win for Colorado State.
His eighth made three of the game went down with 3.4 left in overtime to put the Rams up, 82-81.
“We’re going to have to take a look at it,” Kruger said. “He does a good job of understanding spacing and he hit some big shots.”
Despite the big shots, the biggest play of the game came down to an inbounds play where Stevens knocked the ball loose and off the foot of sophomore guard Keshon Gilbert for the turnover, giving the ball back to the road team.
Earlier in the second half, the Rebels built their largest lead of the game at six points. However, that was countered by a 16-6 run by the Rams to regain control of the game. In the first half, UNLV found itself on the wrong end of a 21-6 run.
Harkless missed a potential game-winning three from a little less than three-quarters court. That miss confirmed a loss despite a career-night from the Oklahoma transfer.
“I shot a prayer just like they shot a prayer – hoping it would go in,” he said. “Just didn’t happen to fall.”
Harkless finished with a career-high 33 points on 50% from the field to go along with a season-high nine rebounds. He played a team-high 40 minutes of a possible 45 minutes.
“We just have to finish games,” he said. “That’s what it comes down to. Colorado State came in and executed, they kept putting us in pickles – the same pickles all day. We’ve got to listen to the coaching staff and what they’re telling us to do.”
Senior guard Justin Webster added 15 points with three made threes. He was followed by senior guard Luis Rodriguez’s 12 points.