UNLV moves to 1-1 in Mountain West play with 83-73 win over New Mexico

Kalin Sipes-The Sporting Tribune
UNLV picked up a double-digit win at home against New Mexico on Tuesday thanks to a career game from Kalib Boone.

LAS VEGAS — When Jalen Hill suffered a season ending ACL tear in Saturday’s loss to San Diego State, it had the potential to either galvanize the team or shatter it. Fumbling an opportunity on the road against the defending national runner-up was already a gut punch, but losing a glue guy like Jalen on top of that in the process was just a punch to the jaw.

They took those punches on Saturday and punched back on Tuesday night. Led by a career-high 29 points from Kalib Boone and 17 from his brother Keylan, UNLV controlled nearly the entire game en route to a double-digit win over a New Mexico team laden with star power.

“We learned the other day that we lost Jalen for the year, which was tough,” Kevin Kruger said postgame. “You could tell they had a little different aura about them. There was no question that they were locked in.”

For the first time since they’ve been with the team, UNLV fans finally got to see the Boone brothers in the starting lineup together. They certainly did not disappoint, combining for 46 of UNLV’s 83 points while anchoring the defensive end of the floor.

Kalib especially couldn’t have looked more comfortable. It doesn’t feel like a coincidence that his best outing in a long, impressive college career came in his first start alongside his brother at the Thomas and Mack Center.

He told the media postgame, “When I get into a rhythm, I feel like it’s game over. Y’all saw me, I was out there having fun. Especially when I’m having fun with it, there’s not really a lot a person can do.”

UNLV opened the game on a 13-4 run before New Mexico stepped on the gas and hung around for the rest of the half. The Lobos managed to nurse a small lead for about three minutes late in the first half but weren’t able to extend the lead past three points, allowing UNLV to never really lose footing.

The Runnin’ Rebels imposed their will in the second half, at one point stretching their lead to 21 points. New Mexico posed a few small comeback bids late, but nothing that was near materializing. Rob Whaley punctuated the performance for UNLV with a highlight reel slam that’s already gotten the viral Barstool Sports treatment.

The young freshman DJ Thomas once again impressed, showing poise beyond his years in a 12-3-6 performance that extended well beyond the stat sheet and earned the praise of his teammates.

New Mexico is a very good basketball team. The Lobos will almost certainly be in the NCAA tournament come March barring a disaster in conference play. They feature Jamal Mashburn Jr. and Jaelan House, the sons of Jamal Mashburn (duh) and Eddie House, respectively. That’s not to mention Donovan Dent, who is beginning to emerge as a household name in college hoops and as one of the premier players in all of the Mountain West.

And yet, like UNLV did against eighth-ranked Creighton last month, they controlled nearly the entirety of the game en route to a double digit victory. They were able to neutralize Mashburn Jr. and make Dent a non-factor.

To say those two games were a Jekyll and Hyde act in comparison to the rest of the season is an understatement. This is truly the weirdest basketball team I’ve ever witnessed in high Division 1 basketball. I wouldn’t trust them against the College of Southern Nevada and yet I would give them a fighting chance against Houston. I literally can’t call it.

The Runnin’ Rebels are faced with another big time test on Saturday, with No. 20 Utah State coming to town with an eye-popping 15-1 record. Tip-off is set for noon at the Thomas and Mack Center with the game set to be nationally televised on CBS Sports Network.