Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024 | 7:42 p.m.
UNLV basketball stayed hot on Saturday, as Kevin Kruger took his team on the road and knocked off No. 25 New Mexico, 80-77.
The Scarlet and Gray have now won four straight games, their longest streak in conference play since they claimed five straight victories to close out the 2019-20 regular season under then-coach T.J. Otzelberger.
It was a hard-earned win for Kruger’s resurgent crew, with freshman point guard D.J. Thomas and senior center Kalib Boone combining to carry UNLV across the finish line in the final minutes.
UNLV got off to a hot start, jumping out to a 16-4 lead on a Brooklyn Hicks driving layup less than seven minutes into the game.
The sellout crowd at The Pit didn’t stay quiet for long, however, as a subsequent 11-2 run got the Lobos right back into it. When freshman forward J.T. Toppin converted a 3-point play in the closing seconds of the first half, it gave New Mexico its first lead of the night, 40-39.
The teams went back and forth for most of the second half, exchanging the lead seven times without either team able to build much of an advantage.
Thomas scored a team-high 13 points in the first half, then took a backseat for most of the second half as UNLV and New Mexico battled for position.
Thomas reasserted himself down the stretch. First he swished a smooth fadeaway jumper from the baseline to extend UNLV’s lead to 66-63 with six minutes remaining, then drove and nailed a pull-up jumper from the mid-range to make it 68-63. Both baskets came in isolation against New Mexico senior guard Jaelen House, who is a national finalist for the defensive player of the year award.
The score was tied, 70-70, with two minutes left, when Rob Whaley scooped up a loose ball under the basket and laid it in to put UNLV ahead. On New Mexico’s ensuing possession, House drew a foul and made both free throws to tie it again.
Boone scored on a post-up with a minute left to make it 74-72 in favor of the Scarlet and Gray, and after a Jamal Mashburn Jr. missed floater, Boone battled a crowd under the basket to come down with a tough rebound.
Thomas ran down the shot clock, backed down House and drew a foul with 23 seconds remaining. Thomas, a 68.2% free-throw shooter coming into the night, made both to push UNLV’s lead to 76-72.
Keylan Boone made two free throws, and Kalib Boone made a couple with 0.7 seconds left to account for the final margin, making sure New Mexico never had the ball with a chance to tie.
UNLV is now 13-9 on the season and 6-4 in Mountain West play. That puts the Scarlet and Gray in a tie for fifth place in the MWC standings, with a winnable game at Fresno State coming up on Tuesday.
Thomas finished with a career-high 25 points on 8-of-12 shooting, and he also dished out four assists. Kalib Boone posted 11 points and five rebounds, while Whaley went for 16 points, four boards and two blocks.