UNLV Falls To Illinois, 61-59

Nov. 27, 2013

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By Jesse Granger, Special to UNLVRebels.com

LAS VEGAS (UNLVRebels.com)
- For the second straight game, UNLV let a late lead slip away due to an outstanding individual performance.

Rayvonte Rice scored a career-high 25 points, including the game-winning layup with 27 seconds left to lead Illinois past UNLV 61-59.

Rice, a redshirt junior, grabbed a career high 10 rebounds to lead undefeated Illinois (6-0) to its 25th straight win in the month of November.

UNLV fumbled its final chance to win the game, when Bryce Dejean-Jones nearly lost the ball before kicking it out to Kevin Olekaibe for a desperation 3-pointer from the right corner.

Olekaibe's shot was off target for the Runnin' Rebels (2-3), who were held scoreless in the final 4:16.

"The game plan was to go ball screen because they were hard hedging the screen," said Dave Rice. "[Olekaibe] got a good look, and next time he'll make that shot."

Roscoe Smith, who leads the nation in rebounding, led the Runnin' Rebels again with 13 along with six points and two blocks. Khem Birch added 12 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks, and was a perfect 4-for-4 from the free throw line.

Birch rarely left the court, playing a game-high 37 minutes. Smith was right behind him with 36 minutes of his own, but the front court seemed to slow down the stretch for UNLV.

"It's kind of hard to play that hard for all of that time," Birch said.

Despite Birch's four blocks, Illinois' center Nnanna Egwu was able to score 12 points, including 2-of-3 from behind the arc.

One bright spot for UNLV was its success from the free-throw line. They entered the game ranked last at 347th in the nation, but finished the night 13-of-16 (81.3%) from the line.

The loss drops the Runnin' Rebels to unfamiliar territory, below .500 for the first time since 2005.



"We'll come back stronger than ever, and we will continue to progress," Rice said. "This isn't a program about making progress. This is a program with proud tradition and we know what kind of basketball team we need to be."

UNLV will host UT Martin (1-7) on Saturday at 4 p.m. before its first road trip of the season.

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