Fifth-year guard EJ Harkless simply wasn’t going to miss.
Nothing epitomized the former Oklahoma transfer’s hot night than one moment near the 16-minute mark of the second half during UNLV’s 69-59 win Wednesday against Wyoming.
After coming up with a loose ball, Harkless dashed up the court to lead a fast break. He pulled up at the top of the arc as his defenders backpedaled in transition and let a 3 fly.
The shot bounced off the front of the rim, ricocheted off the backboard and settled gently into the net.
It was Harkless’ fifth 3 of the night, a new season high, capping a 9-0 run that propelled the Rebels past the short-handed Cowboys at the Arena-Auditorium in Laramie, Wyoming.
Harkless had 33 points, equaling his career best set earlier this season in the overtime loss to Colorado State, in a game in which the rest of UNLV’s offense never quite clicked.
The Rebels have won four of their past five games, and UNLV has beaten Wyoming in seven of their past nine meetings.
Wyoming was depleted before tipoff. Already missing All-Mountain West honoree Graham Ike for the season, the Cowboys were also without starting guard Noah Reynolds, who suffered a season-ending concussion in Wyoming’s most recent game. He was averaging 14.1 points per game and scored a team-best 23 points when the Rebels beat the Cowboys 86-72 on Jan. 24.
Reynolds and Ike were joined on Wyoming’s inactive list by a trio of Pac-12 transfers. The Cowboys announced former Southern California guard Ethan Anderson, former USC forward Max Agbonkpolo and former UCLA wing Jake Kyman all departed the program Tuesday.
The Rebels, meanwhile, got a boost from the return of fifth-year guard Jordan McCabe, who returned to the court after missing two games with back flare-ups.
UNLV didn’t do a good job taking advantage of Wyoming’s skeleton crew early. The Rebels settled for 3s early in the shot clock, and they trailed 10-6 near the 14-minute mark.
Senior Justin Webster converted a four-point play to restore UNLV’s lead, but the Cowboys’ first 3 of the game, courtesy of senior Hunter Maldonado, with 11 minutes remaining in the first half tied the game at 13.
The Rebels’ offense struggled for a majority of the first half. They shot just 25 percent from the field and went more than six minutes without a field goal late in the half. UNLV was also outscored 14-4 in the paint. Sophomore Keshon Gilbert made the Rebels’ first layup with 1:39 remaining before halftime.
However, UNLV was able to take a 25-24 lead into halftime because of its 3-point shooting. Despite struggling from the floor, the Rebels were 6-for-18 from beyond the arc before the break to Wyoming’s 2-for-12. Harkless was responsible for half of them, making three 3s for the first time since Nov. 18.
The Rebels started the second half slow on offense, too. Maldonado helped the Cowboys quickly retake the lead, but Harkless hit a season-high fourth 3 of the night to keep UNLV close. McCabe hit a 3 on the Rebels’ next possession, then Harkless rattled his 3 off the rim and backboard.
The quick barrage of 3s allowed the Rebels to separate, and Harkless stayed hot. He added 24 points in the second half and went 8 of 12 from the floor for the game.
UNLV also got another solid outing from senior center David Muoka. He had three points and three rebounds and helped limit Wyoming’s offense in the paint to finish plus-16 in 18 minutes, second only to Harkless’ plus-19.