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College basketball: Nevada Wolf Pack hangs on against Fresno State

RENO – The Nevada Wolf Pack has stopped worrying about winning any beauty contests.

“It was an ugly win,” freshman point guard Deonte Burton said after a 79-76 victory over the Fresno State Bulldogs Thursday night at Lawlor Events Center. “But we’ll take it.”

The Wolf Pack, though, played down the stretch as if it didn’t want it.

The Pack missed five free throws and committed two fouls and a turnover in the final 92 seconds before hanging on for its fourth victory in a row. Nobody in silver and blue was able to breathe easy until Fresno’s Tim Steed missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer with a second to play.

“We didn’t play a perfect game,” said center Dario Hunt, who scored 24 points and pulled down 11 rebounds. “But, overall, you can’t be mad at a win.”

The Pack, now 8-13 overall and 5-3 in the Western Athletic Conference, wasn’t mad. Just relieved.

“Early in the season if we would have had those turnovers we would have lost,” said freshman Jordan Burris, who contributed nine points in 19 minutes off the bench. “But we found a way to win.”

Burris had a 3-pointer and a layup to help the Pack build its largest lead of the second half, 55-42 with 13:48 left. Burris also drained a key jumper for a 68-58 lead with six minutes to go.

“I’ve just tried to stay positive and keep working hard,” said Burris of his up-and-down freshman year. “Things will always get better if you keep working hard.”

Burris also had a steal and three rebounds and was on the floor for the final 6:48.

“Jordan kind of hit the freshman wall a few weeks ago and he had to fight through that,” Pack coach David Carter said. “But it’s like I told him, ‘Don’t take a step back now. You have to keep moving forward.'”

The Wolf Pack kept going backward and forward against the Bulldogs.

Jordan Finn gave the Pack a 37-24 lead with 3:33 remaining in the first half. The Pack, though, went cold from the floor (0-for-4 from 3-point range), didn’t score for the next 3:30 and had to settle for a 39-33 halftime lead.

“We talk about that all the time,” said Hunt of the Pack’s inability to put teams away. “We need to keep our foot on the pedal and not let teams back in the game.”

The Pack went on a 7-0 run midway through the first half to take a 21-15 lead as Jerry Evans hit a 3-pointer and Olek Czyz and Burton had layups. Hunt then took over, scoring nine consecutive Wolf Pack points for a 35-24 lead.

“My teammates just gave me the ball in good spots around the basket and I was able to finish,” Hunt said.

The Pack also went on a 9-0 run in the second half. A 3-pointer by Malik Story keyed the run. The Wolf Pack still led by 10 after a 3-pointer by Burris with 6:35 left.

“We’re improving,” Carter said. “We haven’t turned the corner yet. But we’re still improving.”

Story also hit a clutch 15-foot jumper for a 70-64 lead with 2:25 to go. The final minute was a Pack parade to the free throw line.

The Pack, though, struggled at the line, making just 9-of-13. Burton converted four free throws in a row to give the Pack leads of 76-71 (26 seconds left) and 78-73 (19 seconds left).

“Deonte has been in that situation before,” Carter said. “He missed a couple down the stretch but I have a lot of confidence in him. I’ll always go back to him in those situations.”

Carter was just happy to complete the three-game sweep at home over the past eight days against New Mexico State, Louisiana Tech and Fresno State to take a four-game winning streak to Utah State on Wednesday.

“It was sloppy,” Carter said. “We didn’t take care of the ball. Once we got the lead I thought we were trying not to lose instead of playing to win. That’s something we still need to learn.”

Fresno State, though, also never went away. The Bulldogs (8-11, 3-5) got two big 3-pointers each from Kevin Olekaibe and Tim Steed to keep the pressure on the Pack in the final seven minutes. Steed’s second 3-pointer cut the Pack lead to 72-69 with 45 seconds to go.

Steed also had one last chance to tie the game in the final seconds. The Bulldogs’ junior grabbed a rebound after a missed free throw by Hunt with five seconds to go, dribbled his way up court and had a decent shot from the top of the 3-point circle.

“I didn’t want to foul in that situation,” Carter said. “I couldn’t get everybody together to call a foul. I just didn’t want us to do something stupid in that situation. I was just going to take my chances on that one.”

Steed’s shot was wide to the left.

“Whenever you win a close game like that it’s always a positive,” Hunt said. “But we made some bad decisions down the stretch. But when you win it’s positive.”