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NIT_ UNLV vs Boston College

Steve Marcus

UNLV Rebels head coach Kevin Kruger calls out to players during the first half of an NCAA basketball game against the Boston College Eagles in the second round of the NIT tournament at the Thomas & Mack Center Sunday, March 24, 2024.

South Orange, N.J. — 

UNLV’s season came to an end Wednesday with a 91-68 loss at Seton Hall. It was a blowout from start to finish, which one might assume would put a damper on the campaign.

But that wasn’t the case for Kevin Kruger’s squad, which advanced to the postseason for the first time in 11 years before finally running out of gas in the NIT quarterfinals.

When the buzzer sounded, long, long after the game had been decided, the Scarlet and Gray struck a somber but hopeful tone, noting that the program — for the first time in what seems like forever — is finishing on a positive note.

In other words, there’s actually hope heading into the offseason.

Kruger credited his senior class for powering the midseason turnaround that saw UNLV lose just four times over the final nine weeks.

“Obviously, it wasn’t the game we wanted,” Kruger said. “It wasn’t the way we wanted to finish, but there’s a lot of things that this group accomplished that is going to make UNLV basketball a much better place next year than even this year. It’s because of their contributions.”

Seton Hall made quick work of a tired UNLV team that, due to the NIT’s seeding and scheduling system, had to make two cross-country trips to New Jersey in the span of seven days. The Pirates jumped out to an 11-2 lead to start the game, and a 16-0 run spanning halftime pushed Seton Hall’s lead to 26.

Five Seton Hall players finished in double figures, led by 21 points from guard Al-Amir Dawes.

“We kind of got in a hole, obviously, in the first half, tough to dig out of with a really good team like that,” Kruger said. “Came out in second half and they got out on us pretty quick. It was one of those things where, they’re too good of a team to get in a hole like that.”

The Scarlet and Gray were not as sharp as they’d been for the past two months. Three days after the team recorded 17 assists and one turnover in a win over Boston College, they committed 13 giveaways against Seton Hall. That led to 17 points off turnovers for the Pirates.

Senior center Kalib Boone led UNLV with 16 points on 8-of-10 shooting, while senior guard Justin Webster tallied 11 points.

Webster made sure to soak in every minute of the NIT run after a midseason ankle injury threatened to sideline him for the rest of the year. He worked his way back onto the court ahead of projections, and though the team came up short of its NCAA Tournament goal, Webster said they rallied around extending the season as long as they could.

“I attacked every day with trying to make the NCAA Tournament,” he said. “Obviously, we didn’t get there, but we were able to get to the NIT and keep playing basketball with guys I love.”

Webster lamented the Jan. 23 home loss to Air Force, a 32-point defeat that knocked them out of at-large consideration, and said the players “locked in” after that, going on to win 12 of the next 15 contests before running into a hot Seton Hall team.

Kruger expressed a similar sentiment, staunch in his belief that UNLV had enough talent to make the NCAA Tournament all along.

The NIT still represented progress, according to the third-year head coach.

“They took a step forward and did something, getting into a postseason,” Kruger said. “Obviously, everyone wants to go to the tournament. Clearly Seton Hall has an argument for why they should have made it. We feel after January that we had an argument. That’s not the way it works, we know that. But we felt like we were a tournament-caliber team.”

With the games concluded, UNLV finds itself in good position for the 2024-25 campaign. The team is losing three starters to graduation, including the combined production of Kalib and Keylan Boone, but as long as freshman point guard D.J. Thomas returns, the Scarlet and Gray are a step ahead of where they’ve been compared to recent offseasons.

Before leaving the postgame podium for the final time in his college career, Keylan Boone added some perspective to the ups and downs of the season.

“We had a real connection every day,” Boone said. “Me and the coaches, me and the players, you get lost in that. Not even so much the basketball aspect of everything, just every day you come to practice, you end up staying an extra 45 minutes after because you’re just talking to a coach, just mingling, doing whatever. Those are more of the moments I’m going to miss. Just chilling with the coaches, players. Just being around these guys. It’s been an amazing year though. A great basketball year.”

Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at

Article written by #LasVegasSun