RENO - The University of Nevada men's basketball team got plenty of opportunities to end Utah State's 17-game winning streak on Friday night in their Big West Conference Tournament semifinal.
But despite allowing Nevada to stay in the game until the final buzzer, Utah State hung on to eliminate the Wolf Pack from the tourney 69-64. Nevada finished its season with a 9-20 record, while Utah State (27-5) will play in tonight's Big West Championship game against New Mexico State at 9:30 p.m. at Lawlor Events Center.
"We battled, and down the stretch it could have gone either way," said Nevada first-year coach Trent Johnson. "A break here or there these kids stuck together and battled. No one expected us to be here."
Leading 65-59 with just 32 seconds left, Utah State appeared to have the game locked up. After a Nevada shot went out of bounds, Aggie forward Andre Mahorn, nephew of former Detroit Piston Rick Mahorn, traveled while passing the ball inbound, giving the Pack another shot to narrow the lead. When Calvin Criddle scored on a jumper a few seconds later, the Aggie lead was down to four.
After Utah State's Troy Rolle hit two free throws, Nevada guard Adrian McCullough then drove the length of the floor for an apparent uncontested layup that would run out the clock. But the Aggies fouled McCullough on his way to hoop, giving McCullough a three-point play that brought the Pack to within three points with 11 seconds left.
But the mistake-prone Aggies were done giving Nevada chances by then, adding two free throws in the final 10 seconds to finish off the Pack.
Utah State coach Stew Morrill cut his players some slack, saying that playing the tournament semifinal on the Pack's home court put his squad in a tough position.
"Because we won, I can say my feelings more than if we lost, but to have to play the home team on their court in the conference tournament in the semifinals is ridiculous," Morrill said. "I'm proud of my guys that they found a way to win the game."
The Pack was hampered for much of the second half by the absence of freshman guard Terrance Green, who was in foul trouble for most of the half. He picked up his fourth foul with 14 minutes left, sat on the bench until there was just 4:44 seconds remaining, and then quickly picked up his fifth with 3:11 left. Green finished with 12 points, 15 less than he scored on Thursday night against UC Santa Barbara.
"Fouling out took its toll on us down the stretch, it hurt us and that's all that can be said," Green said. "We played hard, but it's the little things that we needed to do to get us over the hump."
Joao Santos led the Pack with 17 points, although he was just 6-for-15 from the field.
Curtis Bobb had 14 points for the Aggies, who have not lost a game since Jan. 8 and own the nation's longest winning streak.