RENO - Nevada finally got a chance to cut down the nets celebrating its fourth straight Western Athletic Conference title though it was a week late.
With the song "We Are The Champions" blaring in the background, Nevada players took turns cutting down the nets at both ends of Lawlor Events Center after their 69-65 win over New Mexico State Saturday night.
It was fitting that seniors Nick Fazekas and Kyle Shiloh cut down the biggest pieces, Shiloh at one end and Fazekas at the other. Shiloh swung his piece of the net wildly in a circle, while Fazekas raised his left hand in triumph much to the delight of the sellout crowd. The duo have been a part of 104 wins in the last four years.
The ninth-ranked Wolf Pack, who were led by Marcelus Kemp's 32 points, upped their record to 27-3 overall, one shy of the school record of 28 wins set in the 1945-46 season. The Pack finished 14-2 in Western Athletic Conference play.
"It was an extremely emotional night," Nevada coach Mark Fox said. "The key for us in the second half was we took better care of the basketball. We were much better in the second half. We calmed down."
Nevada couldn't have played any poorer in the first half.
New Mexico State shot 33 percent. The Pack shot 35 percent and turned the ball over 15 times, leading to 17 New Mexico State points. Junior guard Ramon Sessions had seven of those turnovers, and he finished with 10 in the game.
The Aggies limited Fazekas to only four shots in the first 20 minutes, and Fazekas didn't score his first basket until there was 2:37 left in the opening half
"The halftime speech was simply calm down and relax," Fox said. "Both teams can defend. The first-half shooting woes were just that - good defense."
Nevada used a 9-0 run to wipe out a 41-37 deficit and took a 46-41 lead with 12:39 left.
Fazekas, who finished with 22 points and nine rebounds, started the surge when he rolled one in from short range. Kemp knocked down a 3-pointer and then hit a floater, and JaVale McGee converted two free throws.
Aggie forward Tyrone Nelson, who scored a team-high 15 points, scored six straight points to regain the lead, 47-46.
Then came perhaps the turning point in the game.
Kemp launched a shot from just inside the 3-point line, and was fouled by Shaun Davis, who protested and was slapped with a technical foul by Verne Harris. Kemp drained all four free throws to give Nevada a 50-47 lead with 10:17 left.
Nevada never trailed again, although New Mexico State cut the lead to 56-55 on a 3-pointer by Elijah Ingram and a three-point play by Nelson with 7:12 left. Kemp made it 59-55 when he hit three free throws after being fouled by Justin Hawkins with 6:56 remaining.
Kemp actually stole the show from his senior teammates. It was his second 30-point game of the season. He scored 33 against San Jose State back on Jan. 11 in a 72-63 win.
"I want to say thanks to Tyrone Hanson," Kemp said. "He got me juiced for the game."
"I talked to the underclassmen yesterday, specifically Marcelus, and told them they would have to play well," Fox said.
Kemp obviously took the talk to heart. He went 9-for-17 from the field and an even more impressive 12-for-13 from the line.
Hatila Passos cut the Pack lead to 59-57, but another floater by Kemp made it 61-57. Four straight points by Fazekas (22 points, 9 rebounds) made it 64-59 with 4:04 left.
Nevada tried to milk some time off the clock, but that strategy backfired. One trip resulted in a turnover and another trip resulted in a hurried shot by Fazekas.
Ted Knauber's floater made it 65-63 with 28.3 left, but two free throws apiece by Kemp and Fazekas put the game away.
"We can analyze this and be real smart about everything," NMSU coach Reggie Theus said. "When it comes down to it, they got the calls, they made the plays and we missed ours. That's what really happened. We had opportunities.
"Down the stretch of the game, we stopped them five times in a row. We didn't score on our own end. When you shoot 17 free throws and they shoot 35, it's hard to win that game on the road in a building like this against a hell of a good basketball team."
New Mexico State outshot Nevada from the field 26-19, but Nevada was a little more aggressive trying to get to the rim.
In the end, the Aggies didn't stop Fazekas like they did in the first half, and they never had an answer for Kemp.