UNLV rides fast start to 79-68 win over Fresno State

Kalin Sipes-The Sporting Tribune
UNLV held off a Fresno State rally in the second half, capitalizing on a nine-point halftime lead that was aided by a strong first 10 minutes.

LAS VEGAS-UNLV notched their second straight victory on Tuesday night, getting out to an early 15 point lead against Fresno State in the process of completing a wire-to-wire 79-68 victory. 

UNLV entered the game looking to even their in-conference record at 4-4 after Saturday’s bounce back win at San Jose State. The Scarlet and Gray faithful also celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Thomas and Mack Center during the game, giving out special merchandise and paying homage to the glory days of the Runnin’ Rebels with the in-game music selection.

Luis Rodriguez scored the first 10 points of the game for either team on behalf of the UNLV. A plethora of early turnovers for Fresno State allowed the Runnin’ Rebs to pad an early 12 point lead before even giving up a basket. 

Just past the midway point of the first half, UNLV led 20-5 after Dedan Thomas Jr. converted two technical free throws, followed by Rob Whaley punctuating the fast start with one of his signature slams the next time down the floor. 

Fresno managed to muster brief signs of a comeback late in the first half, cutting the deficit to six before a Keylan Boone three-pointer extended UNLV’s lead back to nine before half. The score sat at 37-28 in favor of UNLV headed into the half. 

“We did a really good job in the first half of forcing turnovers, keeping them off the offensive glass and creating for each other,”Coach Kevin Kruger told reporters following the game. “Our play at the beginning of the first half and at the end of it was the cushion that we needed to get the win.”

The second half started as a continuation of the same tug-of-war that ended the first, but quickly started to favor Fresno in full. 

The Bulldogs brought the deficit it to within as close as a single point in the second half, without ever fully eclipsing the deficit. They executed the full court press and used timely shot making to put UNLV’s back against the wall a few times.

While it wasn’t the full 40 minute clinic they were hoping for, UNLV showed an admirable sense of resilience in the face of a potential Fresno State comeback.

Kalib Boone scored 19 of his 21 points in the second half, leading all scorers while pushing the Runnin’ Rebels passed the finish line.

“I just stayed confident,” Boone told reporters following the game. “I noticed where they were coming double-team from, so I made my moves a little bit quicker.”

The effort was good for Boone’s third 20 point outing of the season.

UNLV G Jackie Johnson was ejected in the second half after receiving a flagrant 2 foul for punching Isaiah Pope in the back of the head.

Besides the ejection, the second half was an impressive show of poise for the Runnin’ Rebels. I don’t need to remind you that they have folded in similar situations this season. Multiple times.

UNLV is back at home on Saturday. They are slated for a showdown with Wyoming, who have similarly slayed some of the conference’s top dogs this season. Tip off is set for 5 p.m. at the Thomas and Mack Center.