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UNLV comes from behind to beat UNR, finish regular season on high note

The UNLV Runnin’ Rebels ended the regular season on a high note in Reno Saturday afternoon.


A late comeback saw UNLV force overtime, and eventually defeat their rivals Nevada – Reno, 69-67, to hand the Wolf Pack their first home loss of the season.


The Rebels earned the seventh seed in next week’s Mountain West Championship and will next be in action on Wednesday, March 8, when they take on Air Force in the opening round of the tournament. Boise State awaits the winner of that game.


UNLV’s close to the regular season was a roller coaster ride, but it is one that gives them a great deal of confidence heading into tournament play next week.


“The sky is the limit,” guard E.J. Harkless said. “We beat the best team at home going into the tournament, so the sky’s the limit for us. It’s on us not to beat ourselves and give ourselves opportunities to win games just like we did today.”


That confidence wasn’t there just days ago. UNLV had surrendered 91 points to Utah State and lost by 25 points on senior night.


“It’s amazing,” Harkless said. “We worked super hard after getting embarrassed, really. Our character got challenged on that senior night and we came out and responded, so [we have] great momentum going into the tournament and I’m super excited.”


The Mountain West Championship starts Wednesday, March 8 from the Thomas & Mack Center. The seven-seed Rebels will take on the No. 10 Air Force Falcons. Game is scheduled for 1:30 p.m.


The roller coaster ride began early Saturday. UNLV jumped out to an 11-0 lead in the opening minutes, before Nevada responded with a 17-4 run of their own.


While the Rebels eventually fought back and led by 10 at the half, they had to do so without sophomore guard Keshon Gilbert, who was ejected for a head butt just over eight minutes into the game. Head coach Kevin Kruger opted to use all his bench to keep UNLV rolling.


The Wolfpack came out engaged in the second half and clawed back. The halftime lead evaporated quickly and the Rebels found themselves in a tight game. Things worsened late when with 2:28 to play UNLV was down by eight points.


A small run got the Rebels within two points with under one minute left, and it was senior guard Luis Rodriguez and sophomore guard Shane Nowell who came up clutch for UNLV.


First Rodriguez secured a steal that led to a coast-to-coast layup to tie the game, then Nowell finished it off with a strong defensive play on Wolf Pack star Kenan Blackshear at the end of regulation to force overtime.


“I don’t know if they were trying to pass it to Blackshear or get it into his hands,” Rodriguez said of his late play. “All I saw was the ball. It looked like I had a chance to grab it so I went after it.”


The ensuing layup capped off an impressive 8-0 UNLV run that stunned the Wolfpack and would eventually help force overtime.


In the extra period, a different hero arose for the Rebels in reserve guard Jackie Johnson III. The sophomore had a solid 12 points on the day, but he especially excelled in overtime, scoring seven of the 13 total UNLV points in overtime and helping seal the victory.


“He’s worked so hard,” Harkless said. “He got hit with adversity this year with a lot of older guys but he works super hard and it showed today.”


Johnson’s most important shot came with 43 seconds left in overtime when he nailed a near-logo three-pointer to give the Rebels a two-point lead.


To finish the game off, walk-on Cam Burist grabbed the final defensive rebound, which perfectly encapsulates the depths to which this team has had to reach to win games this season. Burist logged 10 minutes while defending Blackshear in that time, contributing to the UNLV win.


Harkless led the way with 24 points for the Rebels. Rodriguez, Johnson III and senior guard Justin Webster all scored in double figures for UNLV. Given the ejection of Gilbert in the first half, the depth scoring couldn’t have come at a better time for the road team.


Kruger now sits at 4-0 all-time against Nevada and was able to lead his Rebels to one of their most impressive wins of the season on Saturday.

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