RENO - Don't for even a moment think that Jerry Evans is happy about losing his starting job.
"It's not OK," the Nevada Wolf Pack junior guard said after Friday's 84-74 victory over the Cal State San Marcos Cougars at Lawlor Events Center. "But it's not about me. It's about the team."
The Wolf Pack, now winners of four in a row to improve to 8-4, is clearly benefiting from Evans' role switch. The 6-foot-8 Evans scored a game-high 18 points against San Marcos with three steals and four rebounds in 22 minutes off the bench.
"We all have to make sacrifices," said Evans, who has now come off the bench in the last five games after starting as a freshman and sophomore as well as the first seven games of this season. "This is just my time to make sacrifices."
Evans, however, is not making any sacrifices once he steps on the court. His production has actually increased since losing his starting job.
"I knew he didn't like it (losing his starting job) but I wasn't worried about how he would play," Pack coach David Carter said. "I was hoping he'd play the way he has played."
As a starter the first seven games of the season, Evans averaged 5.3 points in 22 minutes a game. Coming off the bench he has averaged 11.2 points in 24 minutes a game.
"He kind of gets embarrassed about it (losing his starting job)," Carter said. "It's something he had for two years and now he doesn't have it. When we're on the road it doesn't really bother him as much as it does when we're home and he's playing in front of his friends. But he needs to get over it because he's playing well."
Evans, who started 62 of the first 73 Wolf Pack games in his career, isn't likely going to get over it anytime soon. When he's on the court now, he said, he's playing with the determined mindset of someday earning his starting job back.
"I guess you can say that," he said.
Carter, though, also isn't about to change his lineup anytime soon. The Pack is 4-1 since its he changed the lineup over two weeks ago.
"I like the way things are going," Carter said. "We are starting games better, we are defending better and we're rebounding better. We're playing much better."
With Evans leading the way, the Wolf Pack bench scored a season high 50 points against the Cougars. Junior center Devonte Elliott scored 13 off the bench and freshman point guard Marqueze Coleman added 11. The Pack's previous high off the bench this season was 30 points in a 71-69 win over Green Bay on Nov. 17. The bench's top scoring output last season was 25 against Pacific on Nov. 17, 2011, and against Portland on Dec. 22, 2011.
Both Elliott and Coleman tied their season highs for points.
"The guys coming off the bench have to take advantage of the minutes they get and be productive for us," Carter said. "They did that tonight. For Marqueze, this is a good confidence builder for him."
Coleman, who also had two assists in his 18 minutes, is making an adjustment to coming off the bench in his first year in college.
"It's been like a roller coaster," said Coleman, when asked to describe the first dozen games of his career. "It's been up and down. But I've just tried to keep working and get better."
Coleman has scored two points or fewer in six of his 12 games and had just nine points over his last four games combined before Friday night.
"This is just one night but, hopefully, I can have more like this," he said.
The Wolf Pack used a 13-0 run to build a commanding 19-5 lead just seven minutes into the game. Malik Story (14 points, seven rebounds, five assists) drained a pair of 3-pointers in the run and Evans had a pair of dunks. A 3-pointer by Cole Huff and a pair of free throws by Keith Fuetsch (four points off the bench) upped the Pack lead to 26-10 with 9:50 to go in the first half.
By halftime, though, the Cougars, a NAIA school, had cut the Pack lead to just 37-35.
"We had a little letdown," Story said. "We let this team come back too many times. That something we have to fix, something that myself, as one of the leaders on this team, has to fix."
San Marcos, now 10-4, is just in its second season as a program. The Wolf Pack is its third Division I opponent this year. They have lost to all three, falling to San Diego State, 67-46 and UCLA, 83-60, before losing to the Pack. The Cougars do not count losses to the Division I programs in their won-loss record, labeling them exhibition games.
"We lost our intensity a little bit," Coleman said. "But other than that we did a good job."
Carter wasn't pleased with the Pack's frequent losses of intensity. The Wolf Pack upped its lead to 59-44 just seven minutes into the second half after an Evans' 3-pointer and also led by as much as 21 (75-54) with just under seven minutes to play before settling for the 10-point victory.
San Marcos ended up outscoring the Pack 15-6 over the final six minutes of the first half and 20-9 over the final seven minutes of the second half.
"This is another learning lesson for us," said Carter, who now owns a 70-43 career record as the Pack's head coach. "We have to learn how to play with a lead.
"We started the season by starting games off slow and we corrected that. We weren't rebounding well and we corrected that. We weren't playing good defense and we corrected that. Now we have to learn how to play with a lead. At the start of the season we were always playing from behind. Playing with a lead is something we need to learn."
The Wolf Pack will take the next three days off before returning to practice Christmas night (Tuesday) in preparation to face Yale at Lawlor Events Center next Friday.
"I'll be Santa," smiled Carter, referring the Christmas night practice.