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UNLV claims first installment of Silver State Series after beating UNR at home

In order to put the finishing touches on a quick two-game homestand, the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels had to exercise some demons in the form of beating intra-state rival the Nevada - Reno Wolf Pack.


UNLV fed off a nearly sold out Thomas & Mack Center in order to come away with a, 68-62, win over UNR Saturday, Jan. 28. By sweeping its two-game homestand, the Rebels improved to 8-4 at home this season.


“We stuck our chest out a little bit,” head coach Kevin Kruger said. “We had that pride and a little bit of swagger that good things were going to happen because we were playing hard. You can always live with it if you go out there and play as hard as you can.”


This latest matchup between the two rivals pitted the third place Wolf Pack against the 10th slotted Rebels. Prior to the result, both programs had each won 18 meetings with each claiming nine home victories apiece. However over the last 10 meetings, UNLV had only claimed two wins.


Kruger is now 3-0 against UNR as a head coach.


“The writer’s jinx there, hopefully, that one doesn’t come back to get us,” Kruger said. “I just think the guys have done a good job. Last year, I thought we were playing with some momentum when we played Reno and then tonight to go out there and see the crowd and have that electricity and that buzz that was going certainly helped us tonight.”


Overall, the Rebels are now 14-7 on the year and 3-6 in the Mountain West. As it stands, the program is ninth in the conference standings.


A quick road trip lies ahead for UNLV as the team gets ready to head to Fort Collins for a battle with Colorado State. Last season, the Rebels swept both meetings with the Rams.


That game is slated for Tuesday, Jan. 31 with tip-off scheduled for 6 p.m.


“When we struggled there for a couple of weeks, we didn’t necessarily have bad offensive nights,” Kruger said. “We actually had some of our better offensive nights if you take the entire season. But where our confidence really took a hit was on the defensive end.”


Fifth-year guard EJ Harkless scored eight of the last 12 points for UNLV en route to a win for the home team. He finished with a game-high 18 points despite shooting 5-of-15 from the field but he did draw 10 fouls, going 8-for-14 from the free throw line.


Harkless found his spots in the times when the Rebels needed it most. He first converted a layup with less than six minutes left to put UNLV up a point before a midrange jumper pushed the home team ahead by five.


He also tallied a team-high nine rebounds and five assists.


The biggest play of the game may have come on the defensive end when Harkless drew a charge with less than 36 seconds left in regulation and the Rebels up three.


“This team was built with guys and guys who wanted to come here who have kind of etched their names and legacies, if you will, on the defensive end,” Kruger said. “To have that be the deciding point of the game is kind of fitting for this group.”


UNR went on a 13-5 run to close the first half to erase a once double-digit point lead by the home team to two just before halftime. Matters worsened when the Wolf Pack opened the second half on a 5-0 run to take a three-point lead.


The visitors didn’t go away easily as UNR made another run to trim the deficit to a point with less than four minutes to go in regulation.


Senior guard Justin Webster shined with four first half three-pointers on the way to 17 points on the night with five total makes from downtown. Webster’s fifth three of the game tied everything at 42 apiece. Later, he’d finish a layup to put UNLV ahead by three.


“He was huge in the first half with creating that spark,” Kruger said. “Getting that 10-point lead there was largely because he was running to spots and running to space and guys did a good job at finding him.”


Reserve guard Shane Nowell played a season-high 23 minutes, scoring eight points in the process while cashing in on two big three-pointers. Both of his three-point makes came in the second half, the former cut the road team lead to just one while the latter put the team up by seven points in the final 10 minutes of the game.


Nowell was also responsible for assisting on the Webster three that tied the game at 42-all.


“He was big,” Webster said. “Shane is one of those guys who works all day long. I knew one of these games he was going to come out and have a great game for us and tonight was the night.”

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