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FSM Essential Recap: UNLV vs Air Force – Game 31

UNLV Runnin’ Rebels (19-12, 7-11 MWC) | Air Force Falcons (14-18, 5-13)

Franchise Sports Media

 

The Runnin’ Rebels advanced into the Mountain West quarterfinal after defeating the Air Force Falcons in overtime 78-70

UNLV vs Air Force was a Mountain West tournament quarterfinals matchup Wednesday at Thomas & Mack.

UNLV vs Air Force EJ Harkless
Photo Credit: TQ/Franchise Sports Media

With this win, Kevin Kruger won his first Mountain West tournament game. EJ Harkless starred in this one with a career-best 35 points (9-for-20 FGs, 4-for-10 3s, 13-for-18 FTs), six rebounds, four assists, two steals, and four turnovers.

Guys were fighting and staying with it. They clearly understood our concern as a staff about how the game with Air Force can turn into a rock fight,” Kruger said. “They’re going to run their stuff. No matter what you do. Guys did a great job of sticking with it, not putting their head down, and the focus and attention was on the defensive side.”

The UNLV Men’s basketball team advanced to the quarterfinals, where they’ll play the No. 2 Boise State Broncos.

Justin Webster chipped in 12 points (5-for-11 FGs, 2-for-6 3s), four assists, and three steals. Luis Rodriguez, off the bench, contributed 10 points (4-for-7 FGs) and 11 rebounds. Victor Iwuakor also played critical minutes, totaling three points, four rebounds, and five blocks.

The UNLV vs Air Force game went into OT. 

You know, shots weren’t going in there, but just staying confident,” Rodriguez on getting their offense going in overtime. “Everybody just executed. We were able to make some big-time plays, no distractions, just get the job done.”

The UNLV vs Air Force first half.

UNLV vs Air Force Justin Webster
Photo Credit: TQ/Franchise Sports Media

UNLV walk-on guard Cameron Burist was called on for significant minutes against Air Force because Keshon Gilbert was suspended for the game. Burist totaled just three points and two rebounds in 12 minutes of play, but it was his defense down the stretch that propelled the Rebels forward.

Cam’s done a great job,” Kruger said. “Cam did everything he was asked to do to get the win.”

For the Air Force Falcons, Jake Heidbreder led with 24 points (8-for-19 FGs, 5-for-10 3s), nine rebounds, and four turnovers. Rytis Petraitis had 15 points (4-for-8 FGs, 7-for-8 FTs), ten rebounds, and four assists. Carter Murphy totaled 19 points (6-for-11 FGs, 6-for-6 FTs), five assists, and five turnovers.

After a shaky start on offense, UNLV went on a 13-4 run to take the lead early. Both teams combined for 15-of-44 shooting, a whopping 34 percent from the field. However, UNLV’s offense stalled out, allowing Air Force to get back in the game.

The UNLV vs Air Force end of the first half.

Burist knocked down a corner 3 in the final minute to give UNLV a slim lead at halftime. In the first half, Air Force was +8 on the boards. UNLV only had three offensive rebounds leading to zero second-chance points.

The UNLV vs Air Force second half.

UNLV vs Air Force Luis Rodriguiz
Photo Credit: TQ/Franchise Sports Media

UNLV got a little breathing room in the second half thanks to a 7-0 run that included a two-handed slam from Iwuakor. They made seven of eight from the field, while Air Force hadn’t scored in three minutes, but the Falcons kept grinding and wouldn’t go away.

After Rodriguez drove baseline to give UNLV the lead, Air Force’s Petraitis drew a foul on David Muoka. Muoka’s fifth, and he was done for the day. Then a triple from Camden Vander Zwaag gave the Falcons the lead.

Iwuakor, at the free throw line, bricked the front end of a 1-and-1. Iwuakor made up for it with a big block, and Harkless got a transition layup to pull UNLV within one. It was a colossal stand by UNLV when Iwuakor, on the next possession, knocked the ball off an Air Force player in the post with three seconds remaining

The Rebels had a chance to win it at the buzzer. However, Harkless’ half-court heave bounced off the backboard. Both teams came up empty on their final possessions.

Harkless had 18 points in the second half, with 11 more coming in overtime.

Stand together. Now that’s the biggest thing for us,” Harkless said. “Just staying together and being able to look one another in the eyes. Just play super hard, and the outcome will be in our favor.

The UNLV vs Air Force final score was 78-70 UNLV over Air Force.

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 Boise State in the Mountain West Championship Quarterfinals Thursday, March 9th, at 6:00 pm PT. The game will be available on the CBS Sports Network.

 

-Jake Ideguchi-Furukawa – Franchise Sports Media

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