FSM Essential Recap: UNLV vs Southern – Game 1

UNLV Runnin’ Rebels (1-0 / 0-0)  | Southern Jaguars (0-1 / 0-0)

Franchise Sports Media


The Runnin’ Rebels ground out a physical 66-56 victory over the Southern Jaguars in their season opener, thanks to a large contribution from their defense.


UNLV vs Southern
Photo Credit: TQ/Franchise Sports Media

UNLV’s starters for the season opener against Southern were Keshon Gilbert, Eli Parquet, E.J. Harkless, Luis Rodriguez, and David Muoka. This was the projected lineup for most of the offseason, as all five players are known for their defensive capabilities on paper, and we saw how it translated to the court.

UNLV’s defense early on was already causing trouble for Southern, as a steal led to a Rodriguez fastbreak dunk. Parquet would miss a layup, but Muoka cleaned it up with a putback dunk.

UNLV forced six turnovers, and there was still 15:32 to go in the first half. However, their defense once again smothered Southern, nearly causing the shot clock violation.

It was a very encouraging start for UNLV. They had already managed to force eight turnovers but struggled to turn them into points. Harkless was the team’s main driver, as he had already accumulated five points and two steals.

With 11:58 left in the first half, the score read UNLV 13, Southern 6. A circus pass by Harkless off a steal led to Gilbert lobbing it off the backboard to Rodriguez for the dunk. 

That was something head coach Kevin Kruger wasn’t expecting, “Hey, he made it. Had it not gone in, I’m not really sure what would have happened. I got nothing else on that one,” Kruger said. “You know, if they can go out there, create 20 turnovers and get dunks, I think, you know, they should have as much fun as they can have.”

UNLV had already forced 11 turnovers, and they held Southern to 7-of-17 from the field, but it’s not turning into offense yet, aside from that one spectacular alley-oop from Gilbert to Rodriguez.

With 6:12 left in the half, and the score at UNLV 24, Southern 17, Parquet intercepted an errant pass and swung the ball to Gilbert for the fastbreak layup.

At Halftime, UNLV led 33- 25 with their stout defense, forcing 17 turnovers on 37 possessions. However, offensively they were clogged just a bit as UNLV was 2-15 from the 3-point range (13.3%) and 33.3% overall. Harkless and Gilbert led with nine points apiece.


UNLV controlled this one from start to finish with their defense, as they led for the majority of the game, only losing when Southern came out and scored the first points of the contest.


UNLV vs Southern
Photo Credit: TQ/Franchise Sports Media

Heading into the second half, UNLV shot out to a 12-0 run to open up some breathing room. First, Jackie Johnson III and Jordan McCabe both hit threes. Then, Justin Webster forced a turnover and dished the ball off to Johnson III for the layup. Shortly after, Johnson III forced another turnover, and Muoka threw down his second putback dunk of the game.

UNLV was in control now as 11 points were scored apiece for Harkless and Gilbert. UNLV 51, Southern 38 with 11:56 remaining.

Then, in turn, for the worse, Harkless limped off the court after an awkward dribble drive. He was in pain at the end of the bench, holding his right knee. He was able to walk back to the locker room under his own power but shortly returned and was back in the game. He mentioned afterward that it was just cramping.

But Southern went on a 7-0 run when Harkless went out—cutting the lead down to single digits, UNLV 63, Southern 55 with just 3:34 remaining.

The last seven minutes were tough to watch. As zero points were scored, plenty of bodies flew around the court. However, there was a ton of grit, and UNLV was able to grind this one out, defeating Southern 66-56.


Runnin’ Takeaways


UNLV vs Southern
Photo Credit: TQ/Franchise Sports Media

UNLV survived a scoreless drought of 7:17 down the stretch. They leaned heavily on their defense, where they had forced a total of 28 turnovers but only scored 20 points off of them as their offense struggled quite a bit.

Gilbert led the way with 13 points, and Johnson III chipped in 10 points, but it was on a rough 2-9 FGs and 1-7 from three, which we can probably chalk up to first-game jitters. Harkless produced a solid 11 points, five rebounds, and five steals. Southern’s Bryson Etienne led the way with a staggering 25 points on 6-11 from three.

UNLV needs to work on their offense, as their shot selection can be ignored due to the excitement of the first game of the season, but against a better team, they could get exploited. UNLV shot a questionable 15-48 (31.3%) from the field and 4-26 (15.4%) from three. However, their defense is rock solid. If they can get their offensive woes out of the way early, they’ll be golden this season.

After the game, Kruger told reporters after winning their season opener, “Really happy, happy for them, proud of us, proud of them, and just excited to get back in the gym. So I think we’re gonna have a ton of film that we can look at and then point out things that we talked about that we can continue to improve on for Saturday.”

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


The Runnin’ Rebels will now take on Incarnate Word Saturday, November 12th at 3:00 pm at the Thomas & Mack Center. The game will be available to watch on the Mountain West Digital Network.

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-Jake Ideguchi-Furukawa – Franchise Sports Media

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