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Mar 23, 2024 10:40 pm

UNLV, Boston College meet for first time in NIT

unlv kruger

After a cross-country trip and a local rivalry renewed produced road victories earlier this week, UNLV hosts Boston College as the teams meet for the first time ever in the NIT’s second round on Sunday night.

UNLV (20-12) earned the home game following Wednesday’s 84-77 upset at second-seeded Princeton, which was the program’s first postseason win in 16 years and this club’s 11th win in its last 14 games.

The Runnin’ Rebels trailed by two at halftime before shooting 68.2 percent from the field on the strength of eight 3-pointers in the second half.

“I just couldn’t be happier for the guys and prouder of them for the fight in the second half,” coach Kevin Kruger said. “What ended up being the difference in the game was being aggressive and assertive there, and getting looks that we wanted.”

Rob Whaley Jr. finished with a career-high 21 points on 8-of-8 shooting and grabbed nine rebounds, playing an even more important role without Kalib Boone (ankle) and Luis Rodriguez (family issue) available.

“(The 20th win is a) big goal achieved,” fifth-year senior forward Keylan Boone said. “Just happy to keep playing at the end of the day. It’s not so much about winning this or doing that, we just want to keep playing with this same group.”

The Eagles (20-15) are coming off their first postseason win since 2011 by getting past third-seeded Providence 62-57 on Tuesday. Claudell Harris Jr. scored a team-high 17 points and came up with the game-winning steal.

It wasn’t always easy against the longtime rival with big man Quinten Post in foul trouble, but BC coach Earl Grant knows that his club was well tested for battle.

“We needed to embrace the postseason and embrace each other. We needed to embrace the moment,” Grant said. “We had a couple of guys in foul trouble, but they’ve done it a lot (because) we had that situation in the ACC Tournament. I think all of the moments throughout the year put us in a position where we could be calm.”

Elijah Strong played key minutes with Post on the bench, scoring eight of his 10 points in the second half off the bench.

“It’s a moment I’ve been waiting for all season,” Strong said. “(Grant) has been telling me to stay ready, keep my head in it. I just let my confidence take over in that type of moment.”

Holding four opponents to under 60 points in regulation during a 5-1 stretch is proof of the confidence for BC, which had not won in the postseason or reached the 20-win mark in a season since 2011 before Tuesday.

–Field Level Media

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