RENO — The Nevada Wolf Pack is still searching for a home-court advantage this season.
“I don’t know what it is,” coach David Carter said after a frustrating 75-67 Wolf Pack loss to the Fresno State Bulldogs on Wednesday night at Lawlor Events Center. “I can’t explain it.”
The Wolf Pack, which hasn’t finished under .500 at home since 1999-2000, is now just 6-6 at home this season and has lost 12 of its last 20 home games dating back to last season. This latest home loss also couldn’t have come at a worse time. The Pack has now lost three games in a row to fall to 12-13 overall and 7-5 in the Mountain West. The streaking Bulldogs won for the fourth time in a row to improve to 12-13, 5-7.
“This is tough,” said Carter, whose Wolf Pack had won six of its last seven games against Fresno State. “This will really test us.”
Carter can’t explain his team’s struggles at home but he can explain the loss to the Bulldogs.
“We missed 11 free throws,” Carter said. “And we had a lot of blown assignments on defense. We lost this game in those two areas.”
The Wolf Pack made just 16-of-27 (59 percent) free throws and just 7-of-15 in the second half with the game on the line. It was the Pack’s second-worst performance of the year from the line after an 8-of-14 (57 percent) showing in an overtime loss at Wyoming on Jan. 25.
“You can’t miss that many free throws and expect to win,” Carter said.
The biggest culprit from the free throw line was point guard Deonte Burton. Burton, who entered the game with a .753 free throw percentage this season, missed his first seven from the line — six in the second half — and finished 3-of-10. The rest of the team was a very respectable 13-of-17.
“I’m not saying you have to be 100 percent,” said Carter, who would not allow his players to talk to the media after the game. “But you can’t miss seven in a row.”
Burton is also one of the greatest free throw shooters in Wolf Pack history. His 581 successful free throws and 777 career attempts are both school records. His 30 percent success rate on Wednesday is the worst of his career when he has had at least five attempts in a game. He’s also never missed more than five free throws in a game before Wednesday.
“He was getting frustrated but you can’t get frustrated,” Carter said. “You have to toughen up and make some shots.”
To Burton’s credit, he did exactly that. Burton, who led the Pack along with Jerry Evans with 14 points, had a layup to tie the game at 40-40 with 16:37 to play and had another layup for a 44-42 Wolf Pack lead with 15:44 left. The senior also drained a 3-pointer to tie the game at 57-57 with 8:09 to play.
The Wolf Pack offense, though, dried up over the next six-plus minutes as Fresno State took control of the game. The Pack scored just three points — on free throws by A.J. West (one) and Michael Perez (two) — and missed all six of its field goal attempts over the next 6:49 after Burton’s game-tying 3-pointer.
By the time the Pack offense regained its rhythm — the Pack scored seven points in the final 1:20 — it was too late.
Fresno’s Paul Watson drilled a 3-pointer for a 68-60 Bulldogs’ lead with 1:39 to play, sending the bulk of the crowd of 6,606 to the exits.
Carter, though, refused to blame the offense for the loss.
“I still look at the other end,” Carter said. “I go back to the defensive end. They (Fresno State) had a 14-6 edge in second chance points. We didn’t box out. That’s just effort.”
Fresno’s Karachi Edo tipped in a miss by Watson as the Bulldogs took a 53-49 lead with 11:36 to play. Tyler Johnson, a 6-4 guard, also walked in down the lane for a dunk for a 55-49 Fresno State lead with 10:43 to go.
Watson also tipped in a miss from by Johnson for a 65-60 Fresno State lead with 2:27 to go. Watson, who failed to score a point in 17 first-half minutes, scored 15 in the second half. He also had a 3-pointer for a 61-57 Bulldogs’ lead with 6:01 to play.
The Wolf Pack defense held Fresno State to just 31 (9-of-29) shooting in the first half. The Bulldogs, though, shot 50 per cent (13-of-26) in the second half.
“We had too many blown assignments in the post,” Carter said.
The Wolf Pack, which has just six games remaining in the regular season, will head back out on the road to take on New Mexico in Albuquerque on Saturday at 3:05 p.m.
“There are only a few games left,” Carter said. “We have to learn from this.”