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Freshman Keshon Gilbert makes 1st start, gives UNLV lift in win

Fifteen minutes before tipoff Saturday, UNLV freshman Keshon Gilbert heard the news directly from coach Kevin Kruger.

“He said, ‘Keshon, you’re in for Donovan (Williams),’” Gilbert said.

Making his first career start, Gilbert scored seven points, grabbed five rebounds, tied his career high with four assists and added a block in UNLV’s 70-62 win over San Jose State on Saturday at the Thomas & Mack Center.

Williams missed the game with an undisclosed injury. But Gilbert was one of several role players who stepped up for the Rebels (11-8, 3-3 Mountain West) and provided support for senior wing Bryce Hamilton.

“It was huge,” said Hamilton, who scored 30 points on 10-of-19 shooting and added nine rebounds. “Gilbert’s just a freshman, but he doesn’t really act like it. He comes in, works hard and has been waiting for this moment.”

An athletic, 6-foot-4-inch swingman who has primarily earned his playing time for his defense, Gilbert was needed on both ends of the floor Saturday and played a career-high 32 minutes. He looked comfortable, hitting his first jumper a minute into the game, running the floor in transition and continuing to be a pest on defense.

But his passing and playmaking stood out in particular. Gilbert found senior guard Jordan McCabe for a 3-pointer early in the game and assisted on a layup for fifth-year guard Michael Nuga in the second half.

Gilbert’s most impressive dish came with 13:39 to play. Bringing the ball down the left side of the court, he drove toward the right elbow and drew help from the defense. Sensing the space, Hamilton made a backdoor cut from the right corner, and Gilbert whipped a one-handed pass between two defenders, giving Hamilton an easy dunk.

“The sky is the limit for (Gilbert),” Kruger said. “He’s going to keep working it and being more of a focal point offensively, but what he does defensively, as a foundation for a college player, he’s just somebody we’re really excited to have.”

While Gilbert helped facilitate, Hamilton continued his hot scoring stretch. Saturday’s output followed a 32-point effort Thursday in a loss at Air Force, the first time he has scored in the 30s in consecutive games.

Hamilton scored the Rebels’ final 11 points of the first half, when they took a 38-24 lead after shooting 62.5 percent. The lead grew to as many as 16 points in the second half before San Jose State staged a late rally.

Gilbert and Hamilton weren’t the only players to step up. Fifth-year forward Royce Hamm Jr., often the only big on the floor for the Rebels, scrapped for 14 rebounds and had a huge defensive stop by taking a charge as the Spartans (7-10, 0-5) tried to close the deficit to two with less than two minutes left. McCabe went 3 of 6 from 3-point range after going 6 of 24 on 3s in the past seven games.

Trey Anderson led San Jose State (7-10, 0-5) with 19 points and nine rebounds, and Omari Moore added 17 points and seven rebounds.

UNLV will play at 6 p.m. Monday at San Diego State, its fourth game in eight days. The game will be televised on CBS Sports Network.

Contact reporter Andy Yamashita at ayamashita@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ANYamashita on Twitter.

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