UNLV guard Dedan Thomas Jr. (11) controls the ball as...

UNLV guard Dedan Thomas Jr. (11) controls the ball as Colorado State guard Nique Clifford (10) defends during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024, in Las Vegas. Credit: AP/Lucas Peltier

LAS VEGAS — Dedan Thomas Jr. scored 23 points to lead UNLV to a 66-60 victory over No. 22 Colorado State on Saturday night, giving the surging Rebels seven wins in their past eight games.

Luis Rodriguez added 14 points for the Rebels (16-10, 9-5 Mountain West) and Keylan Boone had 11.

Isaiah Stevens led the Rams (20-8, 8-7) with 18 points, Joel Scott scored 13 and Nique Clifford finished with 10. Colorado State has lost three of four and dropped to 3-7 on the road.

Both teams were tied at 49 when UNLV — a 1 1/2-point favorite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook — took the lead for good on a 3-pointer by Boone with 5:01 left and two free throws by Thomas with 3:46 remaining.

The game became a free-throw shooting contest not long after that. Rodriguez made six in a row down the stretch and Thomas sank all four of his attempts to hold off a Rams rally.

“To close out the game at the free-throw line and guard them the best we can gave us a lot of confidence,” UNLV coach Kevin Kruger said.

This was unlike the previous meeting at Colorado State when UNLV led for 29 minutes, but failed to close out what became a three-point loss.

UNLV guard Jackie Johnson III (24) dribbles the ball next...

UNLV guard Jackie Johnson III (24) dribbles the ball next to Colorado State guard Joe Palmer (20) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024, in Las Vegas. Credit: AP/Lucas Peltier

“We were more mentally prepared for this game,” Thomas said. “We knew it was going to be a tough game. It just came down to making free throws and getting stops and getting rebounds, which we didn't do in the last game. I think that was the difference tonight.”

Neither team shot well, each making less than 40%, but the Rebels were better from distance. They made 35.3% of their 3-pointers compared to Colorado State's 25%.

UNLV also forced Colorado State into many one-and-outs, outrebounding the Rams 37-28, including 28-20 on the defensive end.

“We just couldn't make the play we needed to,” Colorado State coach Niko Medved said. “I thought we had some good looks. We had some shots at the rim. We were putting ourselves in position. Sometimes you've got to step up and find a way to make a big shot, and we've done it before."

Colorado State forward Rashaan Mbemba (21) scrambles for the ball...

Colorado State forward Rashaan Mbemba (21) scrambles for the ball against UNLV guard Kalib Boone (10) and guard Luis Rodriguez (15) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024, in Las Vegas. Credit: AP/Lucas Peltier

The Rebels, however, lost a key player early in the second half when forward Rob Whaley Jr. went to the floor holding his left leg. Whaley, who scored in double figures in each of the preceding four games, wasn't able to put pressure on that leg as he was helped to the locker room. Kruger said Whaley injured his ankle and called keeping him out of the game “more precautionary than anything.”

BIG PICTURE

Colorado State: The Rams lost both games this week by a combined eight points, underscoring the thin margin for error in the Mountain West this season. Colorado State entered seventh in the league, so this loss was a tough setback for its hopes of making the top five and earning a first-round bye in next month's conference tournament. No Mountain West team has ever won four games in four days in the tournament.

UNLV: Thomas, a freshman who would've been playing at a Las Vegas high school this season if he hadn't reclassified and entered UNLV early, showed he can quickly put a low moment behind him. Just a week earlier, he missed two free throws down a point with 20 seconds left in a 69-66 loss to state rival Nevada. On Saturday. he made all 12 free-throw attempts, including four in the final 1:12. “He plays like a veteran," Colorado State's Clifford said.

UP NEXT

Colorado State: Hosts Nevada on Tuesday.

UNLV: At Wyoming on Tuesday.

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