With 37 seconds remaining in UNLV’s 68-62 rivalry win against UNR on Saturday, the Wolf Pack had a chance to tie the game.
UNR senior guard Jarod Lucas began his drive near the left wing, looking to either kick out to a shooter or draw contact for a foul. Instead, he barreled over UNLV fifth-year guard EJ Harkless.
As the referee signaled for an offensive foul, Harkless got to his feet, flexed at his onrushing teammates and let our a roar of triumph.
“That’s something we take pride in,” Harkless said. “Coach always preaches about that every single day, and we spend hours on that every day. It’s good to get that outcome against a good team.”
Drawing the offensive foul helped seal a second consecutive win for UNLV (14-7, 3-6 Mountain West) in front of a season-high crowd of 8,734. Harkless scored a game-best 18, senior guard Justin Webster added a season-high 17 points, and sophomore wing Shane Nowell had eight points on efficient 3-for-4 shooting.
It’s UNLV’s third consecutive win against UNR after the Rebels swept the Wolf Pack (16-6, 6-3) during the 2021-22 season. UNLV coach Kevin Kruger is 3-0 against UNR.
“It’s been a little while since we’ve played with that security and confidence,” Kruger said. “(We) just stuck our chest out a little bit and played with pride, competed like crazy and fought.”
Senior wing Luis Rodriguez dressed for the game, but UNLV stuck with its rotation from its 86-72 win against Wyoming on Tuesday with fifth-year wing Elijah Parquet continuing to start. Rodriguez did not play against UNR and hasn’t played since suffering a groin injury Jan. 21 against Fresno State.
UNLV’s defense played a major role Saturday. The Rebels forced 19 turnovers against a UNR team that entered the game committing only 10.5 giveaways per game, and the Rebels scored 18 points off Wolf Pack giveaways.
Both teams started slowly, but UNLV’s reserves helped the offense get back into rhythm. Nowell’s layup with less than 12 minutes left in the first half gave the Rebels a 12-11 lead, their first since 2-0.
The Rebels had a chance to open up the lead as the half came to a close. Webster continuously escaped UNR’s defense and rained 3s on the Wolf Pack, going 4 of 6 from long range to lead all scorers with 12 points at halftime.
But UNR fought back. The Wolf Pack caught fire from 3, and UNLV also failed to take advantage of its trips to the free-throw line, going just 6 of 12 in the first half, including an 0-for-4 stretch from senior forwards Victor Iwuakor and David Muoka.
The Rebels led 35-33 at halftime, but their lead didn’t last longer than one Wolf Pack possession in the second half. A UNLV turnover led to a UNR layup, then Wolf Pack freshman Darrion Williams nailed his third 3 of the game to put UNR in front.
The Rebels didn’t fold, and another 3 from Webster in the right corner tied the game with 15 minutes remaining. Webster’s season-high scoring night went with three rebounds, two assists and a steal. He also went 5-for-8 from 3.
“I was just trying to find ways I can make open shots,” Webster said. “My teammates were able to find me, and I was able to knock them down.”
Harkless once again took over the UNLV offense down the stretch. He added nine rebounds, five assists, two steals and drew 10 fouls against UNR. However, he was uncharacteristically poor from the free-throw line, going just 8 of 14 after making all 11 of his free-throw attempts against Wyoming.
Still, the Rebels have won two in a row for the first time since Dec. 10.
“Feels good to stack wins,” Harkless said.