UNLV suffers heartbreaking 87-86 loss to No. 20 Utah State on controversial 5-point play

Candice Ward-USA TODAY
No. 20 Utah State extended their nation-long win streak to 15 games, beating UNLV at the Thomas & Mack Center on Saturday afternoon. after an unfathomable turn of events.

LAS VEGAS–I’ve seen a lot of games. I can usually come up with some type of glass-half-full take after a tight loss, at the very least I try to present an outlook that intends to give some clarity. Not this time. There are no words to be said about the heartbreak the Runnin’ Rebels and their fans suffered on Saturday afternoon. It was simply the most inexplicable ending I have ever seen in a basketball game on any level.

With eight seconds left and down four points, Utah State’s Darius Brown II drained a three pointer to bring Utah State within a point. As Brown II’s shot was sinking through the net, a foul was called on the floor against UNLV’s Kalib Boone, who collided with Utah State big man Great Osobor. Osobor was rewarded with two free throws, sinking both after a UNLV timeout was called, giving Utah State an improbable 87-86 lead with eight seconds left on a possession they began down four 86-82.

Dedan Thomas Jr. got a decent look at a jumper from the elbow as time expired but couldn’t convert and the unfathomable became reality at the Thomas and Mack Center.

UNLV led from the moment they took a 2-0 lead 48 seconds into the game until Great Osobor’s second free throw went through the net on the double bonus with eight seconds left. After Luis Rodriguez made the first of two free throws the previous possession to put UNLV up 85-82 with 14 seconds remaining, ESPN’s win probability calculator gave the Runnin’ Rebels an 88.5% chance to win. It didn’t update after LuRod made the second free throw to put UNLV up four, but one could presume it was in the high 90s. The next time it updated was after Osobor sank the fateful free throws, giving the Aggies an 81.4% according to the algorithm. It was as big of a win probability shift as you will ever see.

“There’s nothing you can tell your guys after that,” Kevin Kruger told the media after the game. “We played well enough to win the game.”

When asked what he saw on the final play, Kruger responded “I saw everything. We’re going to move on from it.”

For the second straight game, UNLV got off to a fast start against an opponent slated to finish atop the Mountain West conference. This time it was a 19-8 run to start the game for the Runnin’ Rebels, who got out to a 13-4 lead against New Mexico to start Tuesday’s game.

Unlike New Mexico, Utah State wasn’t able to eclipse UNLV’s lead for the entirety of the first half as the Runnin’ Rebs fought off a few rallies that came within a possession. They brought a 47-40 lead into halftime after Rob Whaley and Kalib Boone got the Thomas and Mack Center crowd on their feet with two big time slams. Luis Rodriguez paced UNLV in the first half with 13 points on a perfect 5-5 from the field.

The second half was a bit more turbulent for the Runnin’ Rebs. UNLV was able to get out to a double digit lead at points in the first half and even in the early portion of the second half, but as the second half wore on the Utah State rallies became more persistent and UNLV’s fatigue became a factor as well.

UNLV as a unit struggled to score throughout the second half, with the exception of Kalib Boone who has proven to be the Runnin’ Rebels go-to bucket getter. When the rest of the offense went cold he still delivered each time. And despite being the victim of a controversial call at the end of the game, proved he is among the most valuable players in the Mountain West.

Kalib finished with 18 points while his brother Keylan Boone added 10. LuRod led the Runnin’ Rebels with 23 points but finished 7-14 overall from the field after making his first shot of the second half to start a perfect 6-6. Dedan Thomas Jr. tallied 11 assists to go along with 10 points in the loss.

Utah State’s Isaac Martinez and Great Osobor each scored 24 points to lead all other scorers. Martinez kept Utah State in the game in the first half with impressive shot making, including eight straight points that quelled a UNLV rally.

Osobor racked up 14 rebounds to go along with his 24 points. His size and interior presence posed a big issue for UNLV down the stretch. Especially as the game went on and fatigue mounted.

UNLV is set for another tough clash in the Mountain West gauntlet in Boise on Tuesday night after Saturday’s brutality. Tip-off is slated for 7 p.m. local time on CBS Sports Network.