Down by one with 2.4 seconds to go?
That’s Deonte Burton time.
“He’s the guy we’re always going to go to in that situation,” Wolf Pack coach David Carter said. “I just have to come up with some new plays to get him open.”
Burton banked in a 3-pointer from 25 feet out on Friday night as time expired to give the Wolf Pack an 83-81 victory over the Chattanooga Mocs in front of 5,883 fans at Lawlor Events Center.
“It’s like we always say,” Burton said with a smile. “The bank is always open.”
The Mocs’ Z. Mason left the door open for Burton’s heroics by missing two free throws with 7.8 seconds to go. Carter then called a timeout with 2.4 seconds to go basically to make sure his senior point guard took the final shot.
“With just two seconds left, there isn’t much you can do,” Carter said.
Except give it to Burton, that is.
“Cole Huff set a good screen for me,” said Burton, who finished with a game-high 28 points. “As soon as I let it go, I was just hoping it went in. It felt right.”
“I was just listening for the reaction from the crowd,” Carter said.
As soon as his shot went through the net, Burton raced to the press table under the opposite basket and saluted the crowd. He was then mobbed by his teammates and Wolf Pack fans.
“That just automatically happens,” smiled Burton, refering to his dash to the media table in front of the students’ section. “I guess that’s my spot when something like that happens.”
The Wolf Pack, now 3-2, won a game they seemingly tried to give away. The Pack turned the ball over twice — by Burton and fellow guard Michael Perez — in the last 14 seconds.
“I felt like the guy grabbed my wrist,” said Burton of his turnover with Chattanooga leading 81-80 with 14 seconds to go. “That’s why the ball came out. I tried to dive for the ball and then he tackled me.”
Perez then turned the ball over when he traveled in the lane with 10 seconds to go and the Mocs still up 81-80.
“That last minute felt like it lasted 25 minutes,” Carter said, shaking his head.
The two misses by Mason, though, set up Burton’s heroics. Those were Mason’s only two misses from the line in six attempts as he finished with 24 points.
“I’ll take that every time,” said Pack guard Jerry Evans of Burton’s game-winning shot. “I never feel like he’s going to miss in those situations. When we got the ball back I just said to myself, ‘OK, we got this.’”
Carter wasn’t so sure.
“I felt like this was a game they (Chattanooga) probably should have won,” Carter said. “Deonte turned the ball over. Perez turned the ball over. That made the situation tougher than it should have been. We missed 11 free throws (the Pack was 17-of-28) and we missed three or four layups. And they (the Mocs) shot 50 percent (28-of-56). We can’t let teams come in here and shoot that high. They probably deserved to beat us tonight.”
Chattanooga, now 2-3, simply couldn’t put the Pack away. The Mocs led the entire first half and still were up 53-46 seven minutes into the second half after a layup by Lance Stokes. The Wolf Pack didn’t take its first lead until a steal by D.J. Fenner and a layup by Perez gave Nevada a 58-56 advantage with 9:56 to go.
The Pack outscored the Mocs 20-8 over a stretch of just under six minutes to take a 66-61 lead with 7:32 to play. Evans then hit a jumper for a 68-63 lead and a Burton added a free throw to keep the Pack in front 71-68 with 5:35 left.
The Wolf Pack, which normally relies on jump shots and 3-pointers, outscored the Mocs 54-24 in the paint.
“After we broke their press we wanted to be aggressive and attack the basket,” said Perez, who had 12 points.
“I told the guys, ‘Once you break the press, try to get layups,’” Carter said.
The plan worked almost to perfection as the Pack was 31-of-60 from the floor with more than half its points coming inside.
“We have a lot of guys who can drive to the basket,” Perez said.
Burton, who made 9-of-14 shots from the field, scored from all over the court. His right-handed dunk with just under two minutes to play in the first half ignited the crowd and cut Chattanooga’s lead to 36-34. It also ignited his teammates as Perez hit a 3-pointer from the left corner with eight seconds to go to cut the Mocs’ halftime lead to just 41-39.
Burton also set a defensive tone with a pair of aggressive and physical fouls in the second half. He drilled Chattanooga’s Stokes with about eight minutes to go and did the same to Casey Jones with four minutes to go. Both Stokes and Jones were on their way to easy lay-ups before Burton sent them both crashing to the floor. Both Mocs were then just 1-of-2 from the line.
“No easy baskets,” Burton said. “If they are going to go up for a layup or try to dunk it, you just have to foul them hard. Hopefully, their teammates see that and they have that in the back of their mind the next time they go to the basket.”
Carter has noticed a more aggressive Burton this year. The senior is averaging 25.6 points a game.
“The difference is that he is being more aggressive in the first half,” Carter said. “In his first three years he was a little too passive in the first half. A lot of times he wouldn’t even score in the first half. But this year he is being more aggressive in both halves.”
The Wolf Pack will host Morehead State at Lawlor Events Center on Sunday at 3:05 p.m.
“Hopefully this is a victory we can build on,” Burton said.