RENO — The Nevada Wolf Pack seemingly did everything but win the basketball game Friday night.
“When you score 78 points and shoot 28 free throws you should win the game,” Wolf Pack coach David Carter said after an emotional 80-78 loss to the Pacific Tigers in front of 5,936 fans at Lawlor Events Center.
Pacific’s Andrew Bock drove the lane for a layup to break a 78-78 tie with four seconds to go in the season opener for both teams. The Wolf Pack’s Deonte Burton then missed a game-winning 3-pointer and Jerry Evans missed a tip-in at the buzzer that would have sent the game into overtime.
“I saw Bock drive and he made a tough shot,” Burton said. “After that I just wanted to push the ball up and go for the win.”
Burton’s desperation shot hit the front of the rim as did Evans’ shot from right in front of the basket.
“I had a good look but it was just short and Jerry’s shot just came up short, too,” said Burton who had a game-high 23 points despite missing six of seven 3-point attempts. “I can’t believe we lost. After the game I wasn’t really thinking about that last shot. The whole game just kind of flashed through my head. We just kind of beat ourselves.”
The Wolf Pack lost the game inside as Pacific enjoyed a 46-32 edge in points in the paint.
“Both teams got to the basket well but they just did a little better job of finishing,” said Carter, who lost a home opener for the first time in his five-year head coaching career. “But we let them get in too deep under the basket.”
Bock, who scored just six points in 25 minutes, was guarded by sophomore Marqueze Coleman on his game-winner.
“Marqueze did a good job on him,” Carter said. “I thought Bock just made a good play.”
Pacific shot 53.4 percent from the floor while the Pack struggled at 41.4 percent, wiping out a big advantage at the free throw line. The Pack was 24-of-28 from the line while Pacific was just 10-of-14.
“We didn’t guard the ball well,” Pack guard Michael Perez said. “We didn’t play good defense and didn’t do a good job of staying between our man and the basket. They got to the basket way too much.”
The Wolf Pack, which has now lost nine games in a row going back to last season, took a 42-37 lead at halftime. A 3-point play by Coleman on a fall-away jumper in the lane gave the Pack a 26-22 lead with 7:20 to go before halftime. Jerry Evans hit a jumper for a 35-32 lead and Perez made it 37-34 with 1:33 to go in the half with a short jumper in the paint. Evans then put an exclamation mark on the first half with a crowd-pleasing one-handed dunk off a missed 3-pointer by Burton for a 41-37 lead with 29 seconds to go.
The Pack converted almost half (15-of-31) of its first -half shots.
“The guys competed,” Carter said. “I was pleased with the energy. With our inexperience we just have to learn how to close out games.”
The Wolf Pack controlled the first seven minutes of the second half, taking a 55-47 lead with 13:36 to go. A lay-up by Bock cut the Pack lead to just 48-47 but Cole Huff drained a 3-pointer, Burton hit two free throws and freshman D.J. Fenner had a steal and a dunk.
The Wolf Pack has now lost six of its last seven games against Pacific and trails in the 99-year-old rivalry, 54-44. The victory was just Pacific’s 18th in 48 games in Reno.
“It’s disappointing but we’ll learn from this,” Carter said. “It’s just the first game. We’ll get better.”
The Wolf Pack will play at Cal Poly next Tuesday, at San Francisco next Friday and Cal State Bakersfield on Nov. 18 before returning to Lawlor Events Center on Nov. 22 against Chattanooga.
Fenner, playing his first game in a Pack uniform, converted both of his shots for four points and also had a rebound, two assists, a block and a steal in 15 productive minutes.
Pacific led just briefly in the first 18 minutes of the second half. Their only second-half leads before the final two minutes of the game came on a jumper by Sama Taku (59-58 with 8:08 to go) and on a 3-pointer by Tony Gill for a 67-66 lead with 5:14 left.
Perez, who had 11 points, connected on his third 3-pointer of the game for a 71-67 Wolf Pack lead with 4:20 to play.
“The guys kept telling me, ‘Keep shooting, keep shooting,’” said Perez, who was 4-of-12 from the floor and 3-of-7 on threes. “I just let it go and luckily it fell in.”
A pair of free throws by Evans (13 points, nine rebounds) gave the Pack a 73-67 lead with 3:38 to go. The Tigers then dominated the rest of the game.
Ross Rivera hit a jumper to cut the Pack lead to 73-69 with 3:21 to go. Pacific’s Khalil Kelly broke free for a lay-up to slice the Pack lead to 73-71 with 2:44 left and a 3-pointer by Gill (22 points) gave Pacific a 74-73 lead with 2:11 left.
The Pack, though, regained the lead (75-74) on a jumper by Burton with 1:39 left and a 3-pointer by Coleman tied the game at 78-78 with 34 seconds to go. Coleman, who was just 1-of-10 on 3-pointers last season, was 1-of-2 against Pacific.
“He has a lot more confidence in his shot this year,” said Carter, who added the Coleman was bothered throughout the game by an ankle sprain suffered last Saturday. “I wasn’t surprised at all he took that shot.”