The Bulldogs played hard and led in several statistical categories but could not mount a serious comeback in the second half after the monster shooting performance in the opening half by the Runnin' Rebels.
The loss snapped a four-game winning streak for MSU.
"We talked about chipping away in the second half," MSU head coach Rick Ray said. "We can't give a good quality club a head start like that. We just didn't handle any of the adversity that took place in the game. We had some opportunities at the rim and we didn't finish."
MSU (9-3) built an early 10-5 lead on two Dre Applewhite free throws and a Fred Thomas dunk. UNLV (8-4) received for a 13-12 lead and stretched its advantage to 21-14 on an 8-0 run.
By then, UNLV was beginning to heat up in long-range. Deville Smith hit three 3-point baskets as the Rebels hit 9-of-13 from 3-point range in the first half alone. Conversely, MSU did not hit a 3-point basket in the first half.
After a basket by Gavin Ware, UNLV reeled off an 8-0 run for a 29-16 advantage. The Bulldogs went better than five minutes between field goals during the run.
UNLV shot 52 percent from the field in the first half and led 42-24 at the intermission.
The Bulldogs continued to play with heart in the second half, closing within 12 on two different occasions. A couple of dunks highlighted an 8-0 run in the later stages of the half as the lead grew past 20.
For the contest, the Bulldogs hit 28 of 59 shots from the field (47.5 percent), 1 of 11 shots from 3-point range (9.1 percent) and 9 of 12 shots from the foul line (75.0 percent). The Rebels hit 26 of 59 shots from the field (44.1 percent), 11 of 26 shots from 3-point range (42.3 percent) and 19 of 24 shots from the foul line (79.2 percent).
UNLV held a 39-30 rebounding advantage. The Bulldogs had nine assists and 14 turnovers, while the Rebels had 16 assists and 19 turnovers.
Craig Sword led MSU with 18 points, while Colin Borchert added 12 points.
Kevin Olekaibe led UNLV with 17 points. Smith finished with 15 points, while Roscoe Smith added 12 points and Khem Birch added 11 points. Roscoe Smith had the game's lone double-double as he also pulled down a game-high 12 rebounds.
MSU returns to action at 7 p.m. on Jan. 2 against Maryland-Eastern Shore at Humphrey Coliseum. That contest will close the non-conference portion of the 2013-14 schedule.