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Defense betrays UNLV in loss to Florida State at Sunshine Slam

Updated November 20, 2023 - 7:20 pm

UNLV’s recipe to win this year is different from a season ago. But it still requires some defense.

The Rebels found that out Monday in their first game in the Sunshine Slam, losing to Florida State 83-75 at the Ocean Center in Daytona Beach, Florida. The Seminoles shot 62.7 percent.

“It’s going to be really tough to win a game when a team shoots 62 percent,” coach Kevin Kruger said.

UNLV has more weapons on offense this season, and the Rebels shot 56.9 percent against Florida State. Fifth-year forward Kalib Boone led the team in scoring for the second consecutive game, finishing with 15 points on 7-of-11 shooting and five rebounds.

Four other Rebels scored in double figures, but it wasn’t enough to counter Florida State and junior forward Jamir Watkins, who scored a game-high 19 points.

UNLV (2-2) will face Richmond in its second game of the Sunshine Slam at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday. No. 18 Colorado defeated Richmond 64-59.

Rebels freshman Dedan Thomas Jr. played a game-high 37 minutes and had 13 points and six assists. He also committed three turnovers, the first giveaways the former Liberty standout had since a season-opening loss to Southern on Nov. 8. Thomas is averaging 36.3 minutes per game, three more than any of his teammates.

“He had a lot of really good moments,” Kruger said. “He’s going to keep getting better.”

While the Rebels shot the ball at a high percentage from the floor, they struggled on 3-pointers against the Seminoles (3-1). UNLV went 2 of 10, one game after going 6 of 15 against Pepperdine, and didn’t make a 3 until 13 minutes into the game.

Fifth-year guard Justin Webster was 1 of 4 on 3s. He finished with 13 points on 50 percent shooting, but was minus-12 in 35 minutes. Sophomore forward Isaiah Cottrell missed his only 3 and was minus-19 in 19 minutes.

The Rebels got off to a difficult start, trailing 9-2 after about three minutes. A fast-break dunk by Florida State sophomore Cam Corhen with 10:43 remaining in the first half pushed the lead to 13 points.

“That kind of ended up being the difference,” Kruger said.

But UNLV refused to go away, and a 7-0 run before halftime was punctuated by two free throws from fifth-year forward Jalen Hill, who scored 13 points, to cut the deficit to four points. But Watkins banked in a deep 3 as the half expired.

Florida State opened the second half with two consecutive baskets and led by 14 points with 15:59 remaining, but UNLV clawed back again. A 15-6 run got the Rebels within five points after a layup by Thomas, but Watkins went on a personal 6-0 run.

“We’ve just got to start preparing immediately,” Kruger said. “Get the mind right and focus on having a good day tomorrow.”

Contact reporter Andy Yamashita at ayamashita@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ANYamashita on X.

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