RENO - Marcelus Kemp is back, and that's bad news for opponents on the Nevada basketball schedule.
Kemp, who redshirted last year after tearing his ACL last summer, scored 25 points and grabbed eight rebounds in 24 minutes to lead No. 22 Nevada to a 78-72 exhibition win over Humboldt State before a crowd of 5,205 Saturday night at Lawlor Events Center.
"It feels good just to be out there," Kemp said. "My shot is still there. I can score and play defense. My leg is 100 percent."
Kemp knocked down 9 of 14 from the floor, including 4-for-4 from 3-point range. The last stat is a welcome addition, considering Nevada shot less than 30 percent from 3-point range last season.
"Now you guys know why I was crying last year when he got hurt," Nevada coach Mark Fox said. "He can shoot the basketball. He had a nice game."
"It's great," said teammate Nick Fazekas, who finished with 25 points and 11 rebounds in 24 minutes. "It will help me, Chad (Bell), Dave (Ellis) and Demarshay (Johnson). It's nice to see somebody that can come off screens like that. It opens us up inside."
Kemp, who scored 14 of his 25 in the second half, made some huge plays in the final 20 minutes.
He hit a 3-ball from the top of the key to extend Nevada's lead to 54-46 with 14:01 left in the game, and 34 seconds later, he tossed in a nice fadeaway from about 12 feet to make it 56-48. A putback with 5:32 left gave Nevada a 72-60 lead. After Kevin Johnson slammed down a putback to make it 72-62 with 5:17 left, Kemp scored again with 3:40 left to make it 74-62.
That's when it started to get dicey for the Wolf Pack. With Fazekas and Mo Charlo (11 points) watching anxiously from the sidelines, the Lumberjacks made a big run at Nevada.
Grayson Moyer (21 points) sliced inside for back-to-back baskets, the second after a Kemp turnover. Nevada turned the ball over on its next possession, and Jeremiah Ward (14 points) scored to make it 74-68. A bucket by David Peal and two free throws by Johnson sliced the lead to 74-72 with 28 seconds left.
Forced to foul, Humboldt's Chris Blackwood hacked Lyndale Burleson. The freshman, who was only 2 for 9 last week against Rockhurst, calmly dropped in both foul shots to make it 76-72. Humboldt's upset bid ended moments later on a turnover, and Kemp put the game away with two free throws.
"I wanted everybody to play double-digit minutes," Fox said. "I told them I wasn't going to bail them out. Two years ago we didn't let Kirk (Snyder) and Todd (Okeson) back in to bail them out. I told them the same thing.
"We were a little bit more confident; a little more relaxed. Humboldt is a good basketball team. We played better defensively. We have a long way to go to be the team I think we can be."
Fox said the key in the second half was Nevada's ability to extend its perimeter defense after the 'Jacks torched Nevada in the first half by hitting 54 percent from 3-point range (7 for 13). Humboldt shot just 2-for-9 from beyond the arc in the last 20 minutes.
"They were shooting 3s extremely well," Fox said. "They only got two in the second half. That was the whole key."
"We had more intensity," Kemp said. "We tried to deny more and get up on them, and forced them to shoot bad shots."
Mission accomplished, according to veteran Humboldt State coach Tom Wood.
"It felt like it (Nevada picking up more outside)," he said. "Not a lot of our players can create against a good, athletic defense.
"We came out very emotional. We were in a frenzied state. The last eight minutes our shot selection was careless."
The Lumberjacks, who had a 29-18 lead with 8:19 left in the first half, scored only two baskets the rest of the half and only four points total. Nevada went on a 19-8 tear, led by Fazekas, Charlo and Kemp.
A slam by Fazekas and a driving layup by Charlo cut the deficit to 33-26 with 3:54 left. After two free throws by Moyer, Kemp drained a trey, Fazekas had another slam off a nice dish by Charlo and Fazekas knocked down two free throws to make it 35-33. Cy Vandermeer's two foul shots made it 37-33. A short bank shot by Charlo and two free throws by Kemp tied the game at 37 at intermission.
The Pack continued the momentum at the outset of the second half, going on a 14-4 run for a 51-44 lead, and it was mostly Fazekas. The slender 6-11 forward made nine of those points, all from close range. Kemp added a 3-pointer in the barrage and Charlo had a bucket.
"We had no answer for Kemp," Wood said. "We had no answer for Mo at the defensive end."
The most important thing was that Nevada improved from its first exhibition game, according to Fazekas.
"I think we did," he said. "I thought our defense and rebounding (40-27) was better. We didn't play defense or rebound well last week, and we worked on that this week in practice.
"They looked good. They are a good team to have for an exhibition. They aren't going to roll over. It was a tough victory."