The 6-foot-2 senior had a career-high 29 points, including 7 of 9 3-pointers, to go along with a game-high 9 assists, 5 rebounds and zero turnovers. And also two blocked shots, including a potential gamer-saver on Chad Toppert’s 3-point attempt with two seconds to go.
“Yeah, pretty efficient,” his dad, UNLV head coach, Lon Kruger said with a straight face.
“(He) moved the ball. Got the ball to open people. Made big 3’s. Defensively, did a nice job. Pretty efficient all the way around. … It’s good to have him back healthy and attacking a little bit.”
“I just felt good out there,” Kevin Kruger said. “We as a team were knocking down open shots. … I hit some open shots tonight.”
UNLV shot 52.8 percent (28 of 53) from the floor, including 11 of 20 treys (55.0 percent).
Kruger nailed two of his 3-pointers to highlight a 17-0 spurt early in the second half as UNLV built a 58-42 lead.
But New Mexico (15-15, 4-11), playing its last home game under recently fired head coach Ritchie McKay, didn’t quit.
The Lobos, inspired by a breathtaking left-handed tomahawk dunk from the foul line by forward Tony Dandridge, went on a 14-2 run to regain the lead, 71-70, with 5:06 left in the game.
The teams traded leads down the stretch until Kruger’s 3-pointer following a Darren Prentice turnover gave UNLV a 83-78 lead with just 1:26 left.
Still, the Lobos, behind the stellar play of troubled guard J.R. Giddens (28 points, 8 rebounds), made it interesting until the final buzzer.
Prentice hit a free throw with 6.5 seconds left to cut the UNLV lead to two, 85-83. He missed the second and guard Chad Toppert got the rebound.
Toppert, who ranks third in the MWC in 3-point shooting at 49.1 percent, then attempted a potential game-winning trey from the left corner with about two seconds to go. But Kruger came in from the side to block the shot, and the ball bounced out of bounds with 0.5 seconds still remaining.
“It was just kind of lucky really,” Kevin Kruger said of his big block. “I just swiped at it and got a piece of it. I wasn’t expecting to get a piece of it, but I did.”
Kruger came into the game with exactly one block this season.
The Lobos then inbounded the ball to Gibbons who air-balled his rushed 3-pointer at the buzzer.
“I thought in my head he’d probably hit it,” Rebel guard Wink Adams, who gave up five inches while trying to guard Giddens down the stretch, said. “When he missed it was just a sigh of relief.”
The Runnin’ Rebels improved to 24-6 overall and 11-4 in Mountain West Conference play with the victory and kept alive their hopes of garnering at least a share of the MWC title. For that to happen, UNLV will need to defeat Colorado State (16-11, 6-9) at home on Saturday night while BYU (22-7, 12-3), winners of 30 straight at home, is upset by Utah at the Marriott Center.