Wolf Pack hoops dam the Beavers | NevadaAppeal.com

Wolf Pack hoops dam the Beavers

BY DARRELL MOODY

Nevada Appeal Sports Writer

RENO ” Sophomore forward Malik Cooke quietly has been Nevada’s most consistent player through the first three games of the season.

Cooke scored 14 points and made some key plays down the stretch to spark Nevada to a 79-71 home-opening win over Oregon State before a crowd of 7.629 Saturday night at Lawlor Events Center.

Nevada, led by Luke Babbitt’s 20 points and 15 from junior college transfer Joey Shaw, improved to 2-1 while Oregon State dropped to 0-2 under first-year coach Craig Robinson, the brother-in-law of President-elect Barack Obama.

Cooke seems much more relaxed and that’s translated into him making big, important plays. He’s not showing the tentativeness from a year ago.

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With the score tied at 65 after a 3-pointer by Omari Johnson with 3 minutes, 20 seconds left, Cooke snapped the tie with two free throws 20 seconds later.

After Lathan Wallace misfired, freshman forward Luke Babbitt came down and hit a jump shot in the paint for a 69-65 advantage with 2:09 left.

Cooke tipped in his own miss for a six-point lead, and then made it 73-65 with two free throws, after Nevada forced a turnover.

The closest Oregon State got the rest of the way was 76-71 with 25.8 seconds left.

“Malik has played four positions for us already this year,” Nevada coach Mark Fox said. “He had a terrific off-season. He’s a tough, competitive kid and he’s reaping the benefits and having fun. He found a way to step up and did it at a good time.

“It was a difficult game because of the Princeton style offense they play. It’s a different tempo and style. We were more patient tonight. I’m happy with the win, but it was a battle. We need close games and these experiences so we can grow.”

Robinson said he saw some positive things from a team that is learning a whole new way to play the game.

“I think we played 37 good minutes and three minutes of those were critical and I think you can disperse them through the game,” Robinson said. “We are trying to change a culture here and as rough of a game as this was for us, I see some signs. I’m not pleased (that) we didn’t win, but I’m happy with our effort.”

Part of the problem for Oregon State was its inability to perform consistently when Nevada went to a zone defense with approximately 16 minutes left in the contest. The Pack played a 2-3 mainly, but did use a 3-2 briefly.

The Beavers, who connected on 7-for-12 from beyond the 3-point arc and 56.5 percent overall in the first half, were held to 31.3 percent from beyond the arc and 46 percent overall.

“It was a combination of the defense they played and fatigue on our part,” Robinson said of the difference. “We’re playing with seven guys. I think we got tired and we got in foul trouble.”

“I’m not sure we ever cooled them down,” Fox said. “We have to learn how to defend every style. We were so concerned about back cuts that it opened up the 3-point shot. That’s why we went zone. We wanted to protect the interior.”

Oregon State, behind Utah transfer Daniel Deane, hit four of its first five shots and jumped to a quick 20-12 lead with 12:16 remaining in the first half.

Nevada used runs of 8-0 and 10-2 to grab a 36-35 lead at halftime. Nevada shot 44 percent from the floor, a vast improvement over its past two games when it failed to eclipse the 36 percent mark.

Armon Johnson, Babbitt, Dario Hunt and Richie Phillips scored buckets to slice an early 20-8 deficit to 20-16 with 11:19 left.

A bank by Deane, who led OSU with 19 points and 10 rebounds, and a runner by Omari Johnson boosted the lead to 24-16.

Trailing 32-26 with 5:20 after a 3-pointer by Josh Tarver, Nevada went on its second surge of the half to take the lead.

Armon Johnson hit from the right corner, and following an OSU turnover, Hunt scored on a putback. Another Beavers mistake led to a game-tying layup by Brandon Fields, who was playing his first game since coming off the suspended list stemming from an off-court incident on Oct. 15. Babbitt went coast to coast following another OSU mistake to give the Pack a 34-32 lead.

OSU went ahead 35-34 on a 3-pointer by Deane, but Ray Kraemer scrapped for an offensive rebound, was fouled and hit two free throws to make it 36-35.

In the last four minutes of the first half, OSU went 1-for-4 from the floor and turned the ball over four times.

“I think we threw the ball away three times in a row,” Robinson said. “It’s nerves; it’s learning how to win, and for us, it’s growing pains.”

A three-point play by Babbitt and a dunk by Cooke gave the Pack a 41-35 lead with 18:24 left. A 3-pointer by Deane, two technical free throws by Rickey Claitt and a bucket by Josh Tarver (13 points) gave Oregon State its last lead of the night, 42-41.

Shaw, who went 5-for-9 from the field, drained back-to-back 3-pointers for a 47-44 lead, as Nevada took the lead for good.

– Contact Darrell Moody at dmoody@nevadaappeal.com or (775) 881-1281

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