Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2024 | 11:28 p.m.
UNLV may have gotten a glimpse of the future Tuesday, as the freshman backcourt pairing of D.J. Thomas and Brooklyn Hicks teamed up to close out a 78-69 home win over Fresno State.
It’s UNLV’s second consecutive win, bringing the team’s overall record to 11-9 and its Mountain West mark to 4-4, and it couldn’t have happened without the duo of Thomas and Hicks.
Thomas canned a short jumper to extend the Scarlet and Gray lead to 61-53 with five minutes to play. With three minutes left, Fresno State had cut it to 66-61, and UNLV was in need of a big bucket.
Hicks, who also starred in Saturday’s win at San Jose State, spotted up in the corner and knocked down a clutch 3-pointer to push the lead back to eight points with less than three minutes on the clock. On UNLV’s next possession, Hicks dribbled into the middle of Fresno’s zone defense, found some daylight and converted a floater to make it 71-63 and seal the win.
Kevin Kruger praised his first-year tandem for displaying poise and coming through when it mattered.
“For D.J. and Brooklyn to battle like they always do, it was great to see,” Kruger said. “Brooklyn hit some big shots, and D.J. made some big plays.”
Thomas finished with an efficient 12 points and six assists in 39 minutes, while Hicks tallied five points on 2-of-3 shooting in 21 minutes off the bench.
Hicks’s presence on the floor down the stretch was fortuitous for UNLV. He probably would not have been called upon to be part of the closing lineup had junior guard Jackie Johnson not been ejected midway through the second half due to a flagrant foul, but for the second straight game Hicks took advantage of his opportunity.
The 21 minutes represented a new career high for the Washington native.
“For Brooklyn to have now two games in a row where he’s come in and he’s made big plays, had big minutes…it’s just the tip of the iceberg for him,” Kruger said.
UNLV also got impressive outings from the Boone twins, as senior center Kalib went for 21 points and senior wing Keylan put up 15 points and a team-high 13 rebounds.
The Scarlet and Gray set a defensive tone in the first half, limiting Fresno State to 28 points. The Bulldogs recorded more turnovers than field-goal attempts in the half, allowing UNLV to run out to a 37-28 lead at the break.
Fresno guards Isaiah Pope and Xavier DuSell heated up in the second half, with DuSell scoring eight straight points to trim UNLV’s margin to 44-41 with 14 minutes left. Big man Enoch Boakye threw down a dunk to pull Fresno within 51-50 with 11 minutes remaining, but that’s as close as the visitors would get. Kalib Boone made a pair of free throws, then Thomas hit a running bank shot to regain some breathing room.
Then it was time for Thomas and Hicks to close the door, something that UNLV fans hope to see a lot more of in the coming years.
Kruger believes they are on track to become long-term difference makers for the program.
“Those are two guys, they’re going to be such good players,” he said. “Every game it seems like they’re getting so much better. As time goes on, they’re both going to have great college basketball careers.”