Hours after cracking the top 25 for the first time in more than a decade, the Nevada-Las Vegas Rebels (19-4, 6-2) proved they belong among the country’s elite with a 76-59 win over the CSU Rams men’s basketball team (14-6, 4-4) Tuesday night at Moby Arena in front of 5,124 fans in attendance.
A stifling Rebel defense limited the Rams to 36.5 percent shooting and a season low 59 points.
“You have 16 turnovers in the first half and that’s the difference in the game,” said Head Coach Dale Layer after the team’s worst defeat of the season. “We played tough enough, but we did not play smart enough. It was just a loss.”
Reigning MWC co-player of the week, UNLV sophomore guard Wink Adams led his team with a game high 17 points to go along with three assists.
Despite giving up four inches to CSU’s Stuart Creason and Jason Smith, UNLV forward Joel Anthony controlled the paint with four blocks and eight rebounds in addition to limiting Smith to only three field goals.
Sophomore guard Stephan Gilling led four Rams in double figures with 13 points, despite an injured right hand.
Senior guard Cory Lewis, who turned the ball over three times, credited a suffocating Rebel defense and a lack of focus by the Rams for the loss.
“They pressed us unlike any other team we’ve faced this season,” said Lewis. “We just weren’t into it mentally I don’t think.”
UNLV moved into a tie for first place with the Air Force Academy in the Mountain West Conference standings. CSU remains in fourth place in the conference with the loss.
The Rebels made nine of eighteen three-pointers, including three by junior Curtis Terry.
UNLV also converted 21 CSU turnovers into 21 points along with outscoring the Rams 28-5 in points off the bench.
The Rebels ended the first half on a 12-3 run, capped off by a tip-in by Rene Rougeau at the buzzer to grab a 37-28 lead.
Senior guard Cory Lewis had tied the game at 25 before UNLV made its run to end the first half.
CSU cut the nine-point deficit in the second halt to four with a three-pointer by junior guard Tim Denson, but the Rams were unable to get any closer.
A three-point play by senior guard Kevin Krugar, son of coach Lon Krugar, handed the Rams their biggest deficit of the season and gave the Rebels a 49-37 lead six minutes into the second half. The Rebels would eventually stretch their lead to as many as 19 points.
“You can’t tuck your tail between you legs. Yes, we have had two tough losses the last two games,” said junior center Stuart Creason. “But our team is not one to put our heads down,”
The CSU men’s basketball returns to action this Saturday to host the University of New Mexico.
Men’s basketball beat writer Sean Star can be reached at email@example.com.