RENO - Nevada came out flat and lethargic in the first half. The Wolf Pack picked up their energy level in the second half, and Louisiana Tech was no match.
The 15th-ranked Wolf Pack used some good defense to outscore the Bulldogs 15-4 in the first 4 minutes 54 seconds of the second half en route to an 84-67 victory Thursday night at Lawlor Events Center before a crowd of 8,720.
The win upped Nevada's record to 18-2 overall and 6-1 in conference, good for a first-place tie with New Mexico State, which was idle. Louisiana Tech dropped to 6-13 and 4-3, respectively.
"It was a hard-fought game," Nevada coach Mark Fox said. "Louisiana Tech came out and played harder than us in the first half. They had a lot more energy than we had in the first half. We settled down and got some stops right before halftime.
"We just weren't ready. We were very lethargic. The second half was much better. We played well defensively for the first five or six minutes of the second half to get the lead. Our defense was the key, it led to transition baskets. We got several stops which allowed us to build the lead."
Nevada never led the entire first half, though the score was tied at 30 and then again at 37 on Ramon Sessions' slam dunk with :04 left.
Chad McKenzie had nine and Trey McDowell 10 to lead the Bulldogs, who shot 58 percent in the first half.
It didn't take long for Nevada to get its first lead of the contest - 33 seconds to be exact.
After Chad McKenzie missed a lay-up under pressure, Nick Fazekas, who was held to 13 points and seven rebounds, scored from the right baseline and was fouled. He hit the ensuing free throw to make it 40-37.
Following a Tech turnover, Denis Ikovlev hit the first of his three 3-pointers of the second half to increase the lead to 43-37. After a McDowell misfire, Sessions got the ball to Kyle Shiloh in transition for an easy dunk. Tech took a timeout, and Nevada completed the 10-0 run when Shiloh stole a pass and was fouled going to the basket. His two free throws made it 47-37 with 17:09 left.
Jerome Richardson (10 points) scored five straight for the Bulldogs, but Sessions took a nice feed from Shiloh and converted it into a three-point play. Fazekas capped the surge with a bucket from close range to make it 52-41.
'I don't know what happened," Tech coach Keith Richard said. "They were just flying down the floor. It was like we were stuck in the mud.
"They shot 62 percent the second half. It was just too much for our team. I think they have had better defensive teams in the past. Offensively, they played extremely good for 40 minutes. We tried to figure out how to defend them. With the emergence of Kemp, Shiloh and their bench, their offense is extremely good."
Fox went to his bench with a shade less than 13 minutes left, and the group actually extended the lead by four points to 14. The Pack got a bank shot from David Ellis, a 3-pointer by Lyndale Burleson and a 3-pointer by Tyrone Hanson to make it 63-49 with 8:52 remaining.
The bench did a tremendous job, scoring 23 points, as Brandon Fields scored seven and Hanson added six on two 3-pointers.
Tech did close to 70-60 thanks to a 3-pointer by McDowell, a lay-up by Harry Disy (11 points) and two free throws by McKenzie (19 points), but two free throws by Burleson, a three-point play by Sessions, who led the team with 21 points, and a lay-up by Fazekas on a fast break hiked the lead back to 15, 77-62, with less than three minutes to play.
A key to the second half was the defense Nevada played on McDowell and McKenzie. The duo was held to a combined 4-for-15 in the final 20 minutes.
McDowell and McKenzie went 9-for-15 in the first half.
"They are both great players," Sessions said. "Shiloh and Denis stepped it up in the second half."
Richard agreed that McDowell struggled.
"Trey was struggling in the second half," Richard said. "Fatigue played a part, but they did a good job on him. He was struggling a little bit in the first half. He's not a strong kid physically."
Sessions' play was critical. Besides his 21 points, he pulled down seven rebounds, dished out six assists and only had one turnover in 30 minutes.
"He's good," Richard said. "As an opposing coach, it's nice to see a player grow in the program. He gets better every year. It's where I'd like our Drew Washington to be after three years."
Sessions seemed to take his game in stride.
"I just went through the offense," he said. "Nick draws attention, which makes it easier for me."
And creates nightmares for opposing teams.