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UNLV survives late scare at Fresno State; 3-point streak lives

Updated February 14, 2024 - 11:48 pm

UNLV freshman point guard Dedan Thomas Jr. threw a pass to break the trap with less than 30 seconds left in the game, but the ball slipped out of Brooklyn Hicks’ hands.

Fresno State’s Jalen Weaver came up with a steal at midcourt to give the Bulldogs a chance to win, trailing by two points with under 10 seconds left.

Out of a timeout, the ball found the hands of Xavier DuSell, Fresno State’s best 3-point shooter, in the corner.

DuSell’s 3-pointer fell short, the putback attempt came after the buzzer, and UNLV escaped with a 67-65 road win Wednesday at Save Mart Center in Fresno, California.

“The guys battled and fought like crazy,” UNLV coach Kevin Kruger told reporters. “There’s a couple of times we could have hung our heads, but the guys didn’t.”

All five starters scored in double figures for UNLV (14-9, 7-4 Mountain West), which has won five straight games. Junior forward Rob Whaley Jr. scored 17 points for the Rebels, and fifth-year forward Keylan Boone added 15 points.

Fifth-year center Kalib Boone added 12 points, Thomas scored 11, and fifth-year guard Luis Rodriguez finished with 10 points.

The Rebels went 1-for-8 on 3-pointers, but Thomas’ lone make early in the second half kept UNLV’s 3-point streak alive. The Rebels have made a 3 in every game with the 3-point line. The make extends the streak to 1,216 games, which is the NCAA record for most consecutive games scoring at least one 3-pointer.

Kruger said he was feeling deja vu as DuSell’s 3-pointer went up. In the 2022 Mountain West tournament, DuSell, then a member of Wyoming, hit a corner 3 that ended UNLV’s season in the quarterfinals.

“Shades of Wyoming from two years ago when (DuSell) hit the 3 in the conference tournament that felt like it bounced off the rafters because it was up in the air forever,” Kruger said. “We did a great job getting a hand up. … Maybe this is balancing it out for that 3 a couple of years ago.”

Fresno State (11-14, 4-8) began the second half leading 32-29, and UNLV tied the score five times before it regained the lead when Kalib Boone made a pair of free throws.

Thomas hit his 3-pointer during a stretch in which the Rebels made six straight shots that helped them take a 46-39 lead after an 8-0 run. Fresno State chipped away at the deficit and went on a 6-0 run to even the score at 50 with 9:58 left.

After Fresno State tied the game twice, Rodriguez made three of four free throws, and UNLV took a 56-53 lead it did not give up.

Fresno State cut the deficit to 64-63 with less than three minutes left, but Thomas answered with a jumper.

UNLV forced a stop on the ensuing Fresno State offensive possession but turned the ball over, which led to a Leo Colimerio layup to cut the deficit to 66-65.

Whaley, who scored 12 points in the second half, made one of two free throws. UNLV then forced a shot clock violation before Weaver came up with his steal in the final seconds.

Kruger said he didn’t want to take a timeout in case the Rebels needed it before the final turnover. He credited his players for recovering for the final possession.

“They recovered pretty quickly. They got over (the turnover) pretty fast,” Kruger said. “They changed coverage on the fly in that handful of seconds to take away a good look.”

The Rebels shot 12 of 18 (66.7 percent) in the second half.

UNLV had a strong shooting start. The Rebels made six of their first nine shots, which helped them hold a lead for the first 13 minutes.

A dunk from Whaley gave the Rebels a 20-13 lead, their largest lead of the first half, with 9:46 left.

Fresno State answered with a 7-0 run while holding UNLV scoreless for 3:17. The Bulldogs took their first lead on a 3-pointer from Colimerio to go up 23-21 with six minutes left.

The teams traded the lead three times in the final six minutes, but the Bulldogs closed the half on a 19-9 run to take a three-point lead at halftime.

UNLV missed all five of its first-half 3-point attempts, and both teams shot 46 percent from the field after the first 20 minutes.

The Bulldogs were without junior center Enoch Boakye, who averages 8.5 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game. He suffered an injury during the first two minutes of the game and did not return.

Fresno State didn’t go too deep in its bench. The Bulldogs played seven other players after Boakye’s injury. Four players played 36 minutes or more.

Without one of its starters, Colimerio, a senior reserve guard, scored 16 first-half points and made six of seven shots in the half, with two made 3-pointers for Fresno State.

Colimerio finished with 30 points off the bench.

“It’s another great game in the Mountain West,” Kruger said.

UNLV returns home to host UNR at 8:30 p.m. Saturday at the Thomas & Mack Center.

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

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