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Rebels enjoying fun postseason run: ‘We’re blessed to be doing it’

Senior forward Keylan Boone took quite a bit of ribbing from his UNLV teammates after the team’s second-round National Invitation Tournament win Sunday against Boston College.

Boone played a tremendous game and was a significant difference-maker in the victory. He also committed the team’s lone turnover on a silly pass into traffic.

“I was standing right there and saw him throw it right to the guy and I was just like, ‘Good pass, Key,’” junior forward Rob Whaley said, laughing. “It was hilarious.”

Boone wasn’t Whaley’s only target.

“Shane (Nowell) even got a dunk, so we were happy for him even though he almost got rim-stuffed,” Whaley said. “It was a great game.”

Whaley was more than willing to take a shot at himself as well.

“Seriously, one turnover as a team is really good,” Whaley said. “Usually I have three myself.”

He’s not alone. It’s impossible to talk to any player on the Rebels’ roster for more than a minute without them making a joke about one of their teammates.

That banter has become the norm for a team that has come together to win 12 of its last 15 games. Whaley believes the camaraderie is a major reason why UNLV is still playing. The Rebels face Seton Hall next in the NIT quarterfinals at 4 p.m. Wednesday in South Orange, N.J.

“It’s just how we are,” Whaley said. “We have fun with everything we do from practice to film to weights to stretching. No matter the ups and downs, we always stayed together as a team and still had fun.”

Whaley expects to be back at UNLV next season, but he knows that’s not the case for all of his teammates. Several seniors will graduate. Some underclassmen could explore other opportunities and be replaced by a new mix of personalities.

There’s an understanding within the group that whenever this run ends, it will be the last time everyone takes the court together as a unit.

“They’re playing hard and they’re having fun with it knowing each day is a great opportunity to get a little more work in, spend a little more time with everybody and have another day to play basketball together,” coach Kevin Kruger said. “And the senior group I think has really embraced that.”

The Rebels are reveling in the moment, even if it means taking a second trip across the country in a week. UNLV boarded an afternoon flight Monday to Newark, New Jersey. It’s the same one the team took to play Princeton in the first round of the NIT a week ago.

“Two trips to New Jersey within a week is tough,” Whaley said, joking. “But you get through it and it’s worth it.”

The Rebels were happy to have a home game between trips. They played in front of an announced crowd of 5,543 Sunday at the Thomas & Mack Center despite not learning until Wednesday they’d be hosting the second round. UNLV heard one of the loudest roars of the season when it took the court.

“It was fun and there were a lot of smiles,” freshman guard Dedan Thomas Jr. said. “It was just us having fun doing what we love. We could feel the energy from the fans. We were glad they showed out and cheered us on like that.”

Kruger said the program is working on a way to reward those who were in attendance by getting them back in the building for the opener next season.

The Rebels are hoping the night may include hanging an NIT championship banner.

“There’s a lot of teams that wish they could be playing right now,” Thomas said. “We’re blessed to be doing it and not taking it for granted. I love playing with these dudes and I’m going to miss them when they’re gone, so we’re trying to make the most of it.”

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on X.

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