UNLV wins 80-77 at No. 25 New Mexico to sweep season series behind 25 points from Thomas
Sun, Feb 11, 2024
NCAAB News (AP)
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Freshman guard Dedan Thomas Jr. scored a career-high 25 points, leading UNLV to an 80-77 victory over No. 25 New Mexico on Saturday.
It was the second consecutive home loss for the Lobos (19-5, 7-4 Mountain West), who hadn't been beaten at home before that.
Rob Whaley Jr. added 16 points for the Runnin' Rebels (13-9, 6-4), who swept the two-game season series. Thomas was 8 of 12 from the field and 8 for 10 at the foul line with four assists and two turnovers against the Lobos, who are averaging just shy of 10 steals a game.
"When you have a point guard that you're comfortable with, you know you're going to get good looks," UNLV coach Kevin Kruger said. "You know the ball is going to be taken care of."
Jaelen House and Donovan Dent each scored 20 to lead New Mexico. House, however, was 4 of 15 from the field and teammate Jamal Mashburn Jr. went 3 for 15 in scoring 11 points.
"I thought for the most part, the guys did a good job of staying in front and making as many shots be as tough as possible," Kruger said of his team's defense on New Mexico's guards.
UNLV took the lead for good with just over a minute remaining on a short hook shot by Kalib Boone, breaking a 72-all tie.
New Mexico used a 12-0 run midway through the second half to take a 57-54 lead with 11:20 left. It went back and forth from there, with the game tied five times.
UNLV scored the first seven points of the game and held the Lobos scoreless for more than four minutes. They didn't make a field goal until six minutes in when Mashburn drove the lane for a layup.
The Rebels built their advantage to 16-4 before New Mexico pulled to 18-15.
New Mexico took its first lead by closing the first half with a 7-2 run, capped by JT Toppin's three-point play, to go up 40-39. But after the Lobos made the first bucket of the second half, UNLV scored the next nine points to open a 48-42 advantage.
"Every time we would go on a run, you would just be kind of hoping, let's try and get two more, let's try and get two more," Kruger said. "Let's see if we can get this further because you know they're going to go on a run."
New Mexico dropped out of a tie for first place in the MWC and could fall out of the AP Top 25 on Monday.
"It is obviously disappointing to drop two in a row at home, to not take advantage of an amazing crowd," Lobos coach Richard Pitino said. "You have to give UNLV a lot of credit - they went out and got it. They are a talented team, well-coached, played hard and their size and length bothered us. They made free throws when they needed to at the end. We just kept coming back, tying the game or taking a one-point lead, but we just couldn't build a lead to get over the hump."
The Rebels' win pushes them into a crowded chase for the conference title, just one loss behind frontrunner Utah State.
While Thomas ran the show for UNLV, it was the Rebels' play down low that proved to be the difference as they outscored New Mexico 48-26 in the paint.
"They're strong at the rim," Pitino said. "They're tough at the rim. We have to do a much better job of making those. They were shooting like 70% at the rim. So we've got to be way more disruptive."
New Mexico heads to Nevada on Tuesday. The Lobos routed Nevada two weeks ago, 89-55.
UNLV plays at Fresno State on Wednesday after beating the Bulldogs 78-69 two weeks ago.
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