Malik Story picked the right time to save his lost weekend.
"I just had to get my rhythm back," the Nevada Wolf Pack guard said. "I had been struggling the last few games."
Story scored 14 points in a span of just over four minutes Sunday afternoon as the Wolf Pack turned back the Southern Utah Thunderbirds 79-61 in front of a crowd of 5,885 at Lawlor Events Center.
"We needed that from him," Pack coach David Carter said. "He hadn't been shooting the ball well."
Story, who was just 3-of-16 from the floor on Friday against Cal State Fullerton and Saturday against Green Bay in the first two games of the World Vision Classic, shredded Southern Utah for a game-high 25 points on 8-of-13 shooting.
"It felt good for that to happen," said Story, who had 21 points in the season opener at UC Irvine and then just 10 points combined against Fullerton and Green Bay. In the 71-69 win over Green Bay he was 1-of-10 from the floor and in the 80-77 win over Fullerton he was 2-of-6.
Story was also just 2-of-8 on 3-pointers in the two games against Fullerton and Green Bay. Against Southern Utah he was 3-of-5, with all three coming in a stretch of just 95 seconds in the second half.
"All I was thinking was just get him the ball," point guard Deonte Burton said. "When we were running the fast break he was yelling at me, 'ball, ball, ball.'"
Story's hot streak couldn't have come at a better time for the Pack, which won for the third time in a row and is now 3-1. Southern Utah, which lost all three of its games this weekend and is now 0-4, led by as much as eight (47-39) with 12:38 to play.
"We just didn't come out with a lot of energy," said Burton, who beat Green Bay on Saturday with a 3-pointer with two seconds to play and crushed Fullerton with a 3-point play with 14 seconds to go. "We knew we had to turn up the energy."
Story, who became the 24th player in Pack history to score 1,000 career points with his 11th point on Sunday, was all the energy the Pack needed to pull away from the Thunderbirds. Burton reached the 1,000-point club on Saturday night with his game-winning trey.
The Pack, though, went on a 14-2 run without much help from Story to take a 53-49 lead with 10:21 to play. Story did have three free throws during the run but a 3-pointer by Burton, a lay-up by Cole Huff and six free throws (two each) combined from Burton, Marqueze Coleman and Jordan Burris fueled the run.
Story, however, took over the game with the Pack up just 59-56 with just under seven minutes to play.
The 6-foot-5 senior hit an 18-foot jumper off a feed from Burris for a 61-56 lead with 6:43 to start his hot streak. He also had a 3-pointer for a 64-56 lead, another one for a 67-56 lead and a third from long distance for a 70-56 lead with 3:49 to go. A lay-up for a 75-58 lead with 2:29 to play gave Story 14 of the Pack's 16 points in a span of 4:14 to break the game wide open.
"We just picked up the intensity and used our athleticism more," Story said.
Story's one-man run helped the Wolf Pack avoid an embarrassing loss to the outmanned Thunderbirds. Southern Utah had lost its first three games this season by an average of 31 points.
"I thought the big question going into this game was how much energy we would have," Carter said. "It's tough to play a night game the night before and then come back for a (3:30 p.m.) game. I thought we started very sluggishly."
The Pack took a slim 34-33 lead at halftime but, like in the second half, it required a late surge. Southern Utah took a quick 15-9 lead on a 3-pointer by Damon Heuir (14 points) and also led 28-25 after a 3-pointer by Wade Collie (12 points) with 3:31 to play in the opening half.
Kevin Panzer's lay-up cut the deficit to 28-27 and Jerry Evans drained a 3-pointer for a 30-28 Wolf Pack lead with 2:38 to play. Jordan Burris also had a pair of free throws and Ali Fall scored in the paint to give the Pack the lead at the break.
"We still have to work harder defensively," Burton said. "We're still making games too close."
The Pack was out-rebounded 33-29 by the Thunderbirds and was out-rebounded 104-97 this weekend at home despite sweeping the three games in the World Vision Classic.
"It all starts with the front line," Carter said. "Those guys have to bring it every game."
Panzer and Devonte Elliott, who are replacing departed seniors Olek Czyz and Dario Hunt this season in the Pack's frontcourt, had just five rebounds in 34 minutes combined against Southern Utah. Elliott, who had the best game of his Pack career against Green Bay less than 24 hours earlier with 10 points and seven rebounds, battled foul trouble against the Thunderbirds and finished with four points and two boards in 11 minutes before fouling out. Panzer, who had 18 points on Friday against Fullerton, finished with four points and three rebounds in 23 minutes.
"They need to go out and start games with a lot of energy and right now they are not doing that," Carter said. "Olek and Dario had 100 games of experience each. They could go into games and try to get a feel of the game at the start. But Devonte and Kevin can't do that. They are starting games trying to feed off of Malik (Story) and Deonte (Burton) and they can't do that."
Carter, whose Wolf Pack have won 19 of their last 20 games at Lawlor Events Center, is relieved his team is 3-1 right now. The Wolf Pack will head to Marshall for their next game on Saturday.
"It always feels good to win," he said. "And you are always learning whether you win or lose. As long as we take the proper steps and work on things and get better and still win the game, that's great. But it all starts with our front line. We just have to be more consistent there."
PACK NOTES: Carter announced the signing of high school recruit D.J. Fenner on Sunday.
The 6-foot-6 Fenner currently plays at Seattle Prep.
"His impact right away will be similar to that of Cole Huff and Marqueze Coleman," said Carter, referring to the Pack's two freshmen this season. "Physically he's already there. He's going to be a terrific player for us."
Carter said the Wolf Pack will target a forward or center with their final scholarship remaining.
"We need a big," Carter said. "Next year Ali Fall, Kevin Panzer and Devonte Elliott will all be seniors. It's important we get a big in here to play with those guys. You don't want to wait until those guys leave after next year to bring somebody in."