The UNLV Runnin’ Rebels basketball team started their season on Wednesday with a 64-58 win against the visiting Runnin’ Bulldogs of Gardner-Webb.
This is a new era for the UNLV men’s basketball team. They have just four returning players from the 2020-21 season, two new coaches on the staff and a brand new head coach.
After former head coach T.J. Otzelberger left to take a position at Iowa State, the Rebels were looking to fill the position. They didn’t have to look very far as they had a beloved former Rebel player on their staff already, whose dad was also a beloved former Rebel head coach.
UNLV promoted assistant head coach Kevin Kruger to the head coach position during the offseason. Kruger, who is the son of former UNLV head coach Lon Kruger, played for the Runnin’ Rebels during the 2006-07 season.
After a poor start to last season, the Rebels were looking to start this season off on the right foot.
The team was looking to fourth-year senior Bryce Hamilton to lead the way for the Runnin’ Rebels this season. Hamilton, who has won first and second team All-Mountain West honors over the last two seasons, was the leading scorer for UNLV last season and is one of two starters returning this season.
Hamilton picked up right where he left off last season. He finished the first game of the season as the leading scorer with 22 points. He also added four rebounds and one assist to his stat line.
As much as everyone wanted to see Hamilton lead the team, all eyes were on Royce Hamm Jr. Hamm, a fifth-year senior, is a transfer this season from the University of Texas. The Rebels are hoping that Hamm Jr. will be able to fill the shoes of Mbacke Diong at the center position.
In his first game as a Rebel, Hamm Jr. had a career high in both points and rebounds. He finished with 18 points to go along with his 17 rebounds. This was also the first career double-double for Hamm Jr.
The game came down to the final minutes as UNLV held just a three-point lead with 48 seconds left when a very controversial call was made by one of the refs. As Gardner-Webb’s guard, Lance Terry, was on a breakaway, he went for a layup and was blocked by UNLV forward Donovan Williams.
Williams thought the block was clean and began to celebrate. However, the ref thought otherwise and called a foul. While Williams was celebrating, the refs decided to give him a technical foul for taunting.
These back-to-back calls gave Gardner-Webb four foul shots. With a chance to take the lead if he made all four shots, Terry missed three of the four and could only cut UNLV’s lead to two points.
This was sealing the fate for the Runnin’ Bulldogs as they weren’t able to score for the remainder of the game.
UNLV’s next game will be against the visiting California Golden Bears on Saturday, Nov. 13. Tip-off is scheduled for 5 p.m.
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