Published Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023 | 2 a.m.
Updated Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023 | 8:52 p.m.
UNLV is back on the winning track. Kevin Kruger’s squad just survived Akron, 72-70, to snap a two-game losing streak and get back to .500 on the season (3-3).
It was a lot closer than it needed to be. UNLV committed two turnovers in the final two minutes to fuel a late 10-2 run by Akron, and the Zips actually had the ball and a chance to take the lead in the closing seconds, but Mikal Dawson missed a long 3 and D.J. Thomas secured the rebound with two seconds left to put UNLV in the win column.
Thomas finished with 12 points and six assists while Luis Rodriguez scored a team-high 13 points. Jackie Johnson came off the bench firing and tallied 11 points in 19 minutes.
Despite the shaky finish, UNLV got a win it needed. Kevin Kruger’s crew will now have a full week off before traveling to take on Dayton on Dec. 6.
UNLV pushes lead to double digits vs. Akron
UNLV picked up where it left off, opening the second half with a 14-6 run to push the lead as high as 18 points. With 11:24 left, the Scarlet and Gray maintain a comfortable 55-42 advantage over Akron.
Jackie Johnson has provided a serious spark off the bench. He just scored a driving layup to give him 11 points in 14 minutes; the junior guard has connected on 5-of-8 shots from the field.
Because Johnson is playing so well, Kevin Kruger has been able to give freshman point guard D.J. Thomas more rest than usual tonight. Thomas has eight points and a team-high five assists in 24 minutes.
UNLV up 10 on Akron at half
UNLV closed the half strong, using a 9-2 run to create some breathing room and take a 41-31 lead over Akron into the break.
The final seconds saw Luis Rodriguez break free in transition and convert a layup before the buzzer to send UNLV into the locker room with a spring in its step. Rodriguez has a team-high 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting, but the entire team has shot well tonight, as the Scarlet and Gray are 53.1% from the field and 58.3% from 3-point range.
The more promising development may be on the other end of the floor, where UNLV has played credible defense after getting torched in both games of last week’s Sunshine Slam. Akron big man Enrique Freeman has 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting, but as a team the Zips have been limited to 6-of-19 from the floor (31.6%).
If UNLV can keep up its defensive intensity for the next 20 minutes, they’ll seal up a win and make Kevin Kruger a happy man.
UNLV hot early against Akron
It’s a hot shooting night for the Scarlet and Gray, as they’ve drained five 3-pointers while building a 25-21 lead over Akron with 6:21 left in the first half.
Justin Webster just pulled up on in transition and swished a 3 from the left wing, making him 2-of-4 from deep on the night. As a team UNLV is 5-of-9, with D.J. Thomas also knocking down a couple of long ones.
Defensively, UNLV has turned in one of its better efforts of the young season, holding Akron to 9-of-19 from the field while forcing six turnovers. Mikal Dawson has gotten open for three 3-pointers, however, giving him a game-high nine points.
UNLV off early against Akron
Just four minutes in, UNLV looks to be energized by spending the week at home, as the Scarlet and Gray have taken a quick 10-7 lead over Akron.
Justin Webster and D.J. Thomas have made 3-pointers to get the offense off to a good start, while Luis Rodriguez just scored on a breakaway dunk.
Kevin Kruger made a change to his starting lineup for the first time this season, removing center Isaiah Cottrell from the starting five and inserting senior Kalib Boone. That move has been in the making for a while, as Boone has been logging more minutes with the other four starters than Cottrell over the past several games.
UNLV basketball looking for spark vs. Akron
The 2023-24 season has not started out the way UNLV expected. Under third-year coach Kevin Kruger, the Scarlet and Gray head into Tuesday’s meeting with Akron (7 p.m., Mountain West Network/Silver State Entertainment) needing a victory just to get back to .500 after dropping both games in last week’s Sunshine Slam.
Can they find a winning formula now that they’re back home at the Thomas & Mack Center? Three keys to watch:
In UNLV’s three losses, opponents have combined to shoot an astounding 59.6% from the field. That’s almost unfathomable, especially for a team that was built on defense in the offseason.
It’s probably too early in the season for any dramatic changes to the scheme, but Kruger will have to adjust to his personnel eventually. Given the team had six days off to practice after its last game, there’s a good chance we’ll see some tweaks against Akron.
Thomas on the mend
One player who has lived up to early expectations is freshman point guard D.J. Thomas, who is averaging 10.6 points and a team-high 5.8 assists per game. So it was concerning to see Thomas have to be helped off the court in the second half of Tuesday’s loss to Richmond after suffering an ankle injury.
Thomas eventually returned to that game but did not finish it; he said in the postgame press conference that he would be ready to go against Akron following a week of rest.
Zips coming to play
Akron is no pushover. The Zips are 4-2, sport a better KenPom ranking than UNLV and just took Utah State to the buzzer last week before falling, 65-62. So while this may have looked like a cupcake when the schedule was released over the summer, it’s now looking like a potential landmine.
Senior forward Enrique Freeman has been doing the heavy lifting, posting 16.5 points and 11.7 rebounds per game. Look for senior Jalen Hill to draw that defensive assignment for UNLV.
Who: UNLV (2-3) vs. Akron (4-2)
When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.
Where: Thomas & Mack Center
TV: Mountain West Network, Silver State Entertainment (Cox 125, antenna 5.2)
Radio: 1100 AM, 100.9 FM
Kalib Boone: 14.3 points
Jalen Hill: 7.4 rebounds
D.J. Thomas: 5.8 assists
Enrique Freeman: 16.5 points
Enrique Freeman: 11.7 rebounds
Kaleb Thornton: 3.0 assists