LARAMIE, Wyo. — After absorbing all of Brandon Ewing’s best shots, UNLV walked away with a black eye that might still be hurting in the middle of March.
The Rebels’ chances of reaching the NCAA Tournament as an at-large selection took a serious hit Wednesday night as Ewing threw an array of haymakers.
The senior guard made five 3-pointers and scored 29 points for Wyoming, which took a big early lead and held on for a 77-68 victory over UNLV before a crowd of 4,703 at the Arena-Auditorium.
“This team is tired of losing. We wanted to make a statement,” said Ewing, who shot 8-for-16 from the field and 8-for-9 on free throws. “Big-time players step up in big-time games, and that’s what I wanted to do.”
It was a big-time disappointment for the Rebels, who appeared uninspired and turned in a poor offensive performance as they dropped to 19-7 overall and 7-5 in the Mountain West Conference. The latter includes a 2-4 road record.
UNLV’s lethargic play puzzled coach Lon Kruger, who said, “It’s hard to explain or understand, especially at this point in the season.”
With four games left until they host the MWC tournament, the Rebels’ options for reaching the NCAA Tournament are dwindling. They host Brigham Young on Saturday.
“We’ve been up and down all year. We’ve got to lay it out there every night to have a chance,” Kruger said. “This was not the plan we had in mind.”
UNLV senior Joe Darger said, “Every game is huge for us, so it’s very frustrating. We didn’t play well most of the night. Everybody is obviously upset over the loss.”
Wyoming (15-10, 4-7) raced to a 14-point lead in the first half and rode that momentum the rest of the way, never trailing after halftime.
Tre’Von Willis and Wink Adams each scored 18 points to lead UNLV, which shot 35.5 percent. The Rebels hit only 5 of 26 3-pointers, with Darger going 1-for-8 (all of his shots were 3s) and Adams 1-for-5.
“We missed a lot of shots,” said Adams, who went 6-for-16 overall. “We settled for a lot of 3s instead of getting to the basket.”
A 3-pointer by Ewing gave Wyoming its largest lead, 55-38, with 11:11 remaining.
After a steal and dunk by Rene Rougeau, Willis hit a 3-pointer to pull UNLV within 58-55 with 4:36 to play. But Ewing made two free throws and Sean Ogirri hit a crucial 3 as the Cowboys stopped the Rebels’ rally.
“We’ve got to find a way to play with some energy,” said Rougeau, who scored 16 points before fouling out in the final minute. “It’s frustrating to see everyone not into it.”
Wyoming was the more aggressive and physical team, earning a 44-29 advantage in rebounds and limiting UNLV to four second-chance points.
Ewing made three 3-pointers in the first half, all during a 13-2 run that put the Cowboys on top 33-19. He entered the night needing eight points to reach 2,000 for his career and had 16 by halftime to carry Wyoming to a 35-25 lead.
After his achievement was announced during a timeout, Ewing went to midcourt and danced as the crowd roared.
“Ewing made a lot of shots, and he had a lot of good looks in the first half,” Kruger said. “We wanted to give him a lot more attention than we did.”
The Rebels stumbled through a sloppy first half in which they shot 30 percent, missed all 12 3-point attempts and had seven turnovers.
Contact reporter Matt Youmans at 702-387-2907 or email@example.com.