RENO - You just knew that Marcelus Kemp wouldn't have back-to-back bad shooting nights.
Kemp rebounded from a 4-for-18 effort against Hawai'i on Saturday, to score 22 points, including two critical 3-pointers in the second half, to spark 13th-ranked Nevada to an 85-75 win over Fresno State before a crowd of 10,709 Thursday night at Lawlor Events Center.
Nevada, which celebrated the return of Nick Fazekas to action, improved to 17-1 overall and 5-0 in Western Athletic Conference play heading into Saturday's showdown at New Mexico State (14-4, 4-1). The win was Nevada's 10th straight.
"Any win is big for us," said Kemp, who knocked down 9 of 16 shots from the field. "Fresno State is a great team, and we played great. We want to keep winning.
"We just played harder. We wanted it more. We played good defense, boxed out and rebounded."
And, if Kemp keeps making clutch shots like he did against the Bulldogs, you have to like the Pack's chances.
With the score tied at 55 with 12:31 remaining, Kemp took control and led the Wolf Pack on a 17-6 surge, enabling Nevada to open up a 72-61 lead with 5:52 remaining.
Kemp hit back-to-back 3-pointers to give Nevada a 61-55 lead. After Hector Hernandez scored, Lyndale Burleson knocked in a huge 3-pointer for a 64-57 lead. Two free throws by Ja'Vance Coleman and a putback slam by Quinton Hosley, sliced Nevada's lead to 66-61, but Kemp and Kyle Shiloh buried 3-pointers to up the lead to 11, 72-61.
The Bulldogs trimmed the deficit to 74-67 on a 3-pointer by Eddie Miller, but Kemp hit a jump shot in the key, Denis Ikovlev (career-high 18 points) converted a lay-up and a re-direction tip by Fazekas (20 points, 12 rebounds) off an alley-oop pass made it 80-68.
"We got some stops consecutively," Nevada coach Mark Fox said. "We hit a couple of 3s. Kyle hit one and Cel (Marcelus) hit one.
"I see more poise. I thought we've always have been confident. I think we're starting to show some experience from playing together."
Fresno State coach Steve Cleveland felt the difference was Kemp's shooting, and his own team's inability to knock down perimeter shots and finish at the rim. Fresno shot 38 percent from the floor, but only 29 percent from beyond the arc.
"When the game was on the line, Kemp hit the big shots," Cleveland said. "He hit some tough shots that we contested well.
"It's hard to beat the 13th-ranked team when you shoot 38 percent. We didn't get the stops. We shot 38 percent, and you need to shoot mid-40s to win on the road. We probably missed seven, eight, nine shots around the basket. We have to finish those shots."
And, don't expect Fresno State to change its style anytime soon. The Bulldogs are a jump-shooting team, and they will continue to live or die by their outside shooting. They are still a dangerous team.
"They are a hard team to defend," Fox said. "They have so many weapons. We did a decent job on those two guys (Quinton Hosley and Ja'Vance Coleman), but they still got double figures. Our defense was solid, I don't think it was great."
The Bulldogs, led by Dominic McGuire's 19 points, had six players in double figures.
The day itself started on an ominous note. Fox called off the team's shootaround because he didn't like the energy level. He said the team looked emotionally flat and drained.
That carried over to the early moments of the game when Nevada missed its first four shots from the floor and turned the ball over twice.
The first half proved to be Fresno State's 3-point shooting against Nevada's half-court offense, and the Pack's execution won out.
Of the Bulldogs' 34 first-half attempts, 19 were from beyond the 3-point arc, and Coleman even fell into the first row of seats after draining his only 3-pointer of the half from the left corner. The Bulldogs certainly give new meaning to the term "bombs away."
The game was tied three different times - 16, 19 and 25-all. Fresno State had two different six-point leads, but couldn't hold on thanks to the efforts of Ikovlev, who eclipsed his career high with 10 in the first half, and Fazekas, who hit 5-for-7 from the floor for 12 points.
Fazekas started a 12-3 run with a 3-pointer, and following two FSU misfires on the next possession, Ikovlev snuck inside for an offensive rebound, was fouled, and sank both foul shots to tie the game at 16.
Miller drained a deep 3-ball from the right side to give the Bulldogs a 19-16 lead, but Ikovlev hit from long distance, re-tying the game at 19. Fazekas scored from the key and Kemp, who had a career-best seven assists in the first 20 minutes, drained a jump shot from the foul line for a 23-19 lead.
The teams played even the rest of the half with Nevada leading 41-37 at the intermission.
"I thought we showed good poise in the first half, and we didn't panic," Fox said. "We didn't turn the basketball over. We were able to play together.
"I felt it would be a little bit of adjustment having Nick back because we haven't had him for 10 days. He wasn't quite as healthy as we wanted him to be. I think we kind of had to feel our way early, but I was really pleased we played together."
Fazekas used ball screens to knock down two 3-pointers in the opening half, and despite being gimpy, he played well.
"Nick, even on a bad wheel is tough to guard," Cleveland said.
Fresno State tied the game at 44 on a bucket by Coleman, but a nice spin move by Kemp and a bucket by Ramon Sessions (14 points) made it 48-44. Hosley's putback made it 48-46, but a bucket by Ikovlev and two free throws by Fazekas made it 52-46.
FSU went on a 7-1 run to tie the game at 55, setting the stage for Kemp's heroics.