Senior center David Muoka threw down an alley-oop for UNLV with 2:13 remaining Sunday. It seemed like a statement of intent.
The Rebels — missing two starters in fifth-year wing Elijah Parquet and senior Luis Rodriguez — had played one of their most complete games of the season. UNLV contained Boise State’s offense, outrebounded the Broncos and shot 42 percent from 3. Muoka’s alley-oop cut the deficit to just two points with plenty of time on the clock.
But coach Kevin Kruger’s squad came up short, unable to find that one big play to fully swing the game in their favor.
Boise State held on for a 73-69 victory over the Rebels at ExtraMile Arena in Boise Idaho.
“Even down the stretch, we forced some tough shots,” Kruger told reporters. “By that point, there was a little bit of a rhythm, and unfortunately they went in. I just thought both teams did a really good job of competing.”
The Broncos (21-6, 11-3 Mountain West) made their free throws late, and condemned the Rebels (16-11, 5-10) to a third consecutive loss.
Fifth-year wing EJ Harkless and sophomore Shane Nowell each scored 14 in a balanced effort from UNLV, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the scoring of Marcus Shaver Jr. and Max Rice, who had 19 and 17 points, respectively, for Boise State.
UNLV has lost seven straight games to Boise State and is 2-11 at ExtraMile Arena. The Rebels’ most recent win in the series came on Feb. 26, 2020.
The Rebels were short-handed from the tip. Parquet and Rodriguez, both listed as questionable, did not dress. Senior Justin Webster started his second consecutive game, and Kruger handed Nowell his first start of the season.
Kruger also kept Muoka in the lineup and handed rotation appearances to freshman Keyshawn Hall and sophomore Jackie Johnson III, who combined for 11 points.
Early on, it looked like a good decision. The Rebels raced out to a quick lead as Nowell made two 3s, and UNLV was ahead 26-19 with eight minutes remaining in the first quarter. Muoka was also a presence around the rim, racking up four blocks in the first 11 minutes.
“This is a group that has been really good defensively when we put out fires for each other,” Kruger said. “Against a team like Boise that’s going to continuously challenge you and compete to get really good shots, you’ve got to fight like crazy.”
Turnovers kept the Broncos in business. UNLV committed 11 first-half giveaways that led to 14 points for Boise State. Sophomore Keshon Gilbert was responsible for five of the turnovers, while Harkless and Webster also had a pair each.
Boise State finished the first half on a 7-0 run and took a 38-32 lead into halftime.
The Rebels responded out of the break. Gilbert scored the first four points of the half, and a Nowell layup just two minutes after the restart tied the game at 38.
However, UNLV was never able to recapture the lead. Boise State abandoned its 3-point shooting, choosing to pound the ball into the paint, where it scored 20 points in the second half. The Broncos made 66 percent of their two-point field goal attempts after the break.
Boise State also held onto its lead because of free-throw shooting. The Broncos converted 86 percent of their trips to the charity stripe, while the Rebels made only 66 percent of their free throws.
Boise State had seven more free-throw attempts than UNLV, and Kruger briefly addressed the final foul on Shaver, whose free throws put the game all but out of reach with 17 seconds remaining.
“It was hard for me to tell if there was anything outside the norm,” Kruger said. “Unfortunately, I have to leave it there.”