Leaving a lasting impression on the home crowd, UNLV used Senior Night for yet another statement win.
The Runnin’ Rebels beat the Wyoming Cowboys, 64-57, Wednesday, March 2 from the Thomas & Mack Center.
It was the lone meeting of the regular season between the two teams.
“We lost a tough one to Boise [State],” junior guard Justin Webster said. “One that we wish we could get back but we can’t. So we had to come into this week prepared to play against a really good Wyoming team, who has been second in the conference for a number of weeks.”
It’s the fourth win in the last five outings for UNLV while improving to 12-4 at home in the process.
With one more regular season game to play, the Rebels are 18-12 overall and 10-7 in the Mountain West.
UNLV will now head to The Pit to take on New Mexico Saturday, March 5.
“It’s just another opportunity where we’ve played well,” head coach Kevin Kruger said. “Anytime you get into a conference tournament, you want to be playing well [...] Hopefully, it’ll allow our guys to take a deep breath tonight and to come in with nothing but smiles and a focus for New Mexico.”
Tipoff is scheduled for 8 p.m.
Fifth-year forward Royce Hamm Jr. made the most of his second Senior Night, scoring the team’s first eight points of the game.
“Man, it was huge,” he said. “I knew – I said to myself, ‘Tonight, when in doubt, I’m just going to be me. I’m going to let it flow.’ I came out and I played aggressive and the Basketball Gods just so happened to be going my way and [the shots] were able to fall.”
The fast start on offense came knowing the defensive task that awaited Hamm Jr. on the other side of the floor in defending Wyoming forward Graham Ike.
“Well, the first thing is [the Cowboys] give him the ball every possession,” he said. “That was kind of tough in itself. [Coaches emphasized] just knowing positions, knowing your feet, doing your work early on him knowing they run their offense through him.”
Less than nine minutes into the second half, Hamm Jr. tallied his 10th rebound for his seventh double-double of the year.
He ended the night with a team-high 17 points on 6-of-11 from the field including three made three-pointers to go along with 10 rebounds.
Hamm’s rebounding prowess helped UNLV win the rebounding battle, 44-36.
However, perhaps the biggest play of the game was a steal by Webster, setting up free throws for the offense.
Before that big steal, Webster hit a clutch corner jumpshot off an offensive rebound to put the Rebels up seven points.
“Well, I missed the first shot,” he said. “I missed a three luckily, we were able to get the ball back and I just knew time was running down so I had to get something up. So I was able to create enough space and it went in so we’ll take it.”
Kruger opted to keep Webster in the game down-the-stretch, citing the “flow of the game.”
Webster ended the game with 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting including closing the game four for his last five.
“Man, Justin’s been big,” senior guard Bryce Hamilton said. “He’s always ready when the opportunity comes and I’m very happy for him. He can do much more and everything is going [to be] good for him.”
Hamilton battled through double teams from Wyoming for the majority of the night.
“It’s definitely weird playing a team for the first time this late because it almost feels like a non-conference game,” Kruger said. “With Bryce, he’s always been great. The three years I’ve been with him, he’s been great. If I’ve ever nipped at him, he’ll look away for a second but then he’s right back to looking and wanting to know what’s going on. He’s very mature for 21 [years old].”
Hamilton finished the night with 15 points on 3-of-15 shooting, with six rebounds and four assists.
Prior to the start of the game, Hamilton was ushered out by his parents to a thunderous applause from the Thomas & Mack crowd.
“Ah man, it felt great,” he said. “It’s been a long ride. I was happy to be able to walk out with my parents, it was a great experience. I’m happy we got this dub so it was just icing on the cake.”
Wyoming never led at any point of the first half.
UNLV built a lead as large as eight points in the first half, dominating the vast majority of the 20-minute period.
“That was just the ole ‘Team win,’” Kruger said. “It’s used a lot but it’s true. I’m sure when we go back and watch it, we’re going to see some many things that were done by guys that kind of just gave us that bucket when we needed it.”
Cowboys head coach Jeff Linder was fired up and whistled for a technical foul with 6:27 to play before halftime.
It sparked a 6-0 run by Wyoming that would cut the UNLV lead to one.
The Rebels opened the second half with a bit of sloppy play, turning the ball over three times in the first five minutes and then five times in the first seven.
It allowed the Cowboys to make another run, eventually taking the lead. To that point, UNLV had led for more than 22 minutes of the first 25-plus of the game.