FSM Essential Recap: UNLV vs Air Force – Game 24

UNLV Runnin’ Rebels (14-10 / 6-5)  |  Air Force Falcons (10-12 / 3-7)

Franchise Sports Media


Kruger’s Rebels run right over Air Force with a commanding 78-44 blowout.


UNLV vs Air Force
Photo Credit: UNLV Athletics

Payback is a…REBEL!

After making only 4 three-pointers in their first matchup and going nearly 32 minutes between making their 3rd three-pointer and their 4th three-pointer the Rebels connected on 11 treys and shot 57% from long range while avenging an earlier loss to Air Force in a highly abusive manner routing the Falcons 78-44.

Going into the game it was imperative that the Rebels were able to muster up better than a 26.7% shooting percentage from the three-point line as they did in their last meeting. A team that is top 20 in the nation at defending the three-point shot at 29% for their opponents….CHECK!!!

The Falcons have been holding teams to 63 points per game, so it was important for UNLV to get something going offensively. The Rebels were averaging 69 points per game, so something had to give…and it did! The Rebels boasted an impressive offensive output with four Rebels scoring in doubles figures, a fifth scoring 9 points, and a sixth dishing out 10 assists…CHECK!!!

Another key element of success for tonight’s game was to not allow AJ Walker and Ethan Taylor to get going. Walker is their main offensive weapon and Taylor leads the Falcons in rebounds and assists. At Clune Arena, Walker had 14 points and Taylor grabbed 10 rebounds to go along with his 16 points and 6 assists. Tonight Taylor led the Air Force Academy with only 10 points, to go along with his 1 assist to his 4 turnovers. In contrast, UNLV point guard Jordan McCabe scored only 3 points but dished out 10 assists and did not commit a turnover. Taylor’s partner in crime, Walker, could only muster up 3 points, with 0 rebounds and 4 turnovers….CHECK!!!

It appeared as though head coach Kevin Kruger knew that they were going to have to “make shots” in order to beat Air Force and at no time was this more evident than, in what may have been Kruger’s best coaching moment of his first season, Kruger barked out onto the court for his leading scorer, Bryce Hamilton and one of the hottest offensive players in the nation (who just so happened to have 9 of his team’s 13 points), to give up the ball to Josh Baker whom in return ran a play for Justin Webster…Justin Webster? Yes…Justin Webster, who went on to knock down a three as the Rebels took a 16-15 lead and never looked back…CHECK!!!

With all boxes checked, the Rebels seem to be in a groove and bubbling with confidence. That confidence has found its way up the Rebel bench, all the way up to the 1st chair itself. The confidence to make a call like the one Kruger made to take the lead Tuesday night showed a tremendous amount of growth on Kruger’s part and the decision also shows a tremendous amount of confidence in Webster, (which clearly was a confidence booster for him) as he went on to have a solid game for UNLV!

However, from my perspective, the story of the game was JOSH BAKER. Baker played an exceptional game, he spelled McCabe for a lengthy time as McCabe picked up his third personal foul. After back to back turnovers freshman guard Keshon Gilbert was subbed out for Baker and when McCabe had to leave the game it was Baker who was called upon to not only incur those minutes at the point but was even asked to contribute in a way that he had not prepared for in the days leading up to the game.

Fresh out of concussion protocol due to a concussion he suffered against San Jose State on January 22nd, Baker’s impact was most notable on the defensive end. Baker does all of the things that coaches love. He’s always in the right place, doing what you teach in the most efficient way. As Air Force looks to lull a defender to sleep and then cut backdoor as a teammate drives towards their defender (forcing the defender to help on ball penetration) Baker does an excellent job with his length and quickness to simultaneously be in gaps and still deny a passing lane for his man who’s cutting to the basket; thus truly disrupting the flow of the Air Force offense.

Kruger mirrored those thoughts saying, “We ran into some screens early on and we were getting stuck a little bit and they were getting some cleaner looks than we wanted to give.  There were some plays where Bake slides through a screen, or he trails a screen he’s got his hand up, so the looks not as clean or they’re not even able to get the shot off”.  Kruger gloated on his first-year junior college transfer from Arizona via Hutchinson Community College and his impact on the game. “He’s a smart player, he understands what the offensive guy is trying to do and so he kind of uses that to try to disrupt their rhythm. I thought he did a great job! He passed it where it needed to go, he spaced it out and it was great to see him step up there and knock down that shot because he hasn’t had a lot of game reps in the last three weeks since he had that concussion”.

Not the quickest Rebel, Baker makes offense difficult to run, due to the fact that he’s so disciplined and never takes chances that will put his team in harm’s way. Moving forward if the Rebels can consistently get this type of play from the point guard position between McCabe and Baker; 43 minutes and 12 seconds with 10 points, 14 assists, and only 2 turnovers, they will be a tough team to beat come tournament time where guard play is most impactful.


“Bake is a guy you root for so anytime something goes well for Bake you get pretty excited for him” – Kevin Kruger on junior guard Josh Baker


UNLV vs Seattle
Photo Credit: Trisha LaCoste/Franchise Sports Media

Bryce Hamilton was well…BRYCE HAMILTON! You know that man with the “S” on his chest…no, I meant #13! Hamilton continues to be aggressive and asserts himself every night as not just another “go-to” guy on a team (every team has one of those) but as the best player in the building and usually the only pro. Before Webster gave the Rebels the lead for good, Hamilton had scored 9 of the Rebels 13 points. He played with a bounce and a child-like exuberance that was missing early on in the season. In obvious better condition, Hamilton displayed his athleticism on a series of hard drives to the basket and in particular a one-handed dunk late in the game that made the Rebel faithful jump out of their seats and all but sealed the Falcons‘ faith.

Hamilton led all scorers with 24 to go along with his 5 rebounds, knocking down 4 three-pointers. Royce Hamm Jr had a strong showing with 12 points. Webster came off of the bench and scored 11 points. David Muoka had 12 points and a thunderous one-handed putback to go along with his 3 rejections. Mike Nuga was 3 for 3 (and had a +31 on the +/- metric) from the three-point line and just barely missed scoring in doubles figures with 9 points. Lastly, Rebel point guard McCabe dished out 10 assists and did not commit a single turnover.

This latest version of this Rebel team was poised, obviously much better prepared which shows a commitment to the film and to the scouting report. There was no trepidation on the floor, all night long they did a great job of knowing “who, what, when, and how” and most importantly they really appeared to be having fun and the crowd fed off of that, and then the players fed off of the crowd which began a never-ending cycle of pleasure. The pleasure from being inside of one of the most storied basketball venues in the world! Revenge is a Rebel…but I don’t know which felt better, being a Rebel or getting revenge?

Revenge is a Rebel…but I don’t know which felt better, being a Rebel or getting revenge? R-R-R-REBELS!!!!


The following are in-game tidbits that may or may not appear in the boxscore.


This game’s “STREAKER” was Bryce Hamilton. Hamilton’s three-pointer came early in the 1st half and made the score 3-4 for the Rebels. The streak is still alive at 1,153 straight games with a made three-pointer!

In tonight’s game, the “VEGAS HUSTLA” was Josh BakerBaker stepped up huge for the Rebels and did an excellent job of spelling Jordan McCabe at the point while he and freshman Keshon Gilbert were in foul trouble.


Don’t forget to go out and support the Runnin’ RebelsClick here to get your UNLV Runnin’ Rebels tickets! 


The Rebels will take on the Boise State on Friday, Februaray 11th at 8:00 PM in Boise, Idaho. The game can be seen on FS1 Network.

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-Che Jones – Franchise Sports Media

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