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‘Tough way to finish’: UNLV blows 2nd-half lead, falls to UNR — PHOTOS

Updated February 18, 2024 - 12:21 am

UNLV’s 11-point second-half lead had vanished late Saturday night against rival UNR.

With 20 seconds left, freshman point guard Dedan Thomas Jr. stepped to the free-throw line with UNLV trailing by one.

Thomas had been brilliant all night — scoring, finding open teammates and breaking through the Wolf Pack’s relentless defense.

But he missed both free throws, just about his only mistakes of the night, and the Rebels lost 69-66 at the Thomas & Mack Center.

Thomas is “such a great player that’s going to have an amazing career, so of course there’s a little more attention on (the missed free throws),” UNLV coach Kevin Kruger said. “These are regular growing pains. The best of the best don’t make every shot.”

Guard Jarod Lucas made all four of his free throws in the final 15 seconds — his only foul shots of the game — to help UNR (20-6, 7-5) hold on.

UNLV (14-10, 7-5) had a chance with seven seconds left to try and force overtime, but a left-wing fadeaway 3-pointer from fifth-year forward Keylan Boone was off.

“It was a tough way to finish,” Kruger said. “It was a really good 36, 37 minutes, and just a tough way to finish.”

Thomas led UNLV with 19 points on 6-of-11 shooting and dished out eight assists. Boone added 15 points, and junior forward Rob Whaley Jr. scored 11.

The loss snapped UNLV’s five-game winning streak, and its four-game winning streak against UNR.

“We just didn’t execute as a team down the stretch,” Whaley said. “It’s simple, we just have to execute better down the stretch. It’s been a problem for us in a couple of games, and we have to be better at it.”

UNLV led 56-45 with over nine minutes left, but UNR chipped away to get within six points at the 6:37 mark.

Thomas dribbled around a UNR triple-team and found an open Jackie Johnson III, who knocked down a corner 3 to put UNLV ahead 62-53 with 5:31 left.

Then the Rebels went cold, and UNR used a 10-0 run over the next four minutes to take a 63-62 lead.

Thomas hit a running floater with 1:17 left to snap UNLV’s drought. But UNR forward Nick Davidson answered on the other end with a putback layup, and the Wolf Pack held on for the final 43 seconds, helped by Thomas’ missed free throws.

“We just got timid, and we fouled too much,” Kruger said. “What had gotten us there — we just need to keep that aggressiveness and the same level of intensity. We just got a little timid and gave up too many easy buckets.”

Davidson led UNR with 19 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, and Lucas added 18 points.

In a back-and-forth first half, UNLV used a 7-0 run to take a 27-20 lead with six minutes left.

After UNR responded with an 8-0 run over the next three minutes, UNLV closed the final three minutes on a 9-0 run to take a 36-28 lead at halftime.

“We just have to finish out doing the same thing (we did in the first half),” Boone said.

UNLV next plays at Air Force at 8 p.m. Wednesday.

“I know this group, they’ll work hard Monday to get ready for Wednesday,” Kruger said.

Contact Alex Wright at awright@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AlexWright1028 on X.

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