Kemp blows up in Nevada win over Utah St.

Kemp blows up in Nevada win over Utah St.

BY DARRELL MOODY

Appeal Sports Writer

RENO - Star players tend to come up big in important games.

Monday night was one of Nevada's biggest, most important games of the season, and Marcelus Kemp turned it into a personal highlight show.

Not only did Kemp score a career-high 35 points, but he also passed Alex Boyd for third place on the all-time scoring list and then helped the Wolf Pack withstand a late Utah State rally to lead Nevada to an 85-80 win before a crowd of 8,454 at Lawlor Events Center.

Nevada, which has won three straight and six of its last seven, improved to 8-3 in Western Athletic Conference play and 16-8 overall. Utah State dropped to 8-2 and 18-7, respectively.

Kemp is all about wins first and personal achievement second, so it was extra special that he was able to win the game and achieve another milestone in his tremendous career. He passed Boyd when he converted a three-point play with 7 minutes, 50 seconds to go in the first half. Kemp now has 1,757 career points.

"It's a great accolade," Kemp said. "I heard [Boyd] was a great player, but I never got a chance to see him play. I'm just happy we got the win."

As he has done all season, Nevada coach Mark Fox was full of praise for his star player and the way his team played, especially the 24 assists compared to just four turnovers.

"Marcelus Kemp is such a warrior," Fox said. "He loves big games. He loves big moments. He came back to school to get a degree and have a great senior season. So far, he's been able to do that.

"We beat a good basketball team, a team I have a lot of respect for. They outrebounded us and shot a higher percentage, but we worked hard to beat an excellent team."

Kemp went 9-for-17 from the field and drained 13-of-14 free throws. He also pulled down seven rebounds and dished out six assists.

"We had no answer for Kemp," Utah State coach Stew Morrill said. "You've got to guard a guy like that with the whole team and we didn't do that. We didn't switch off long enough. He's really good."

Kemp was tough in the first half when his 13-point outburst carried Nevada to a 38-30 halftime lead, but he was even better in the final 6 1/2 minutes of the game.

After Utah State sliced Nevada's lead to 66-57 on a 3-pointer by Jaycee Carroll, who scored 24 of his 29 points in the final 20 minutes and single-handedly got the Aggies back into the game, Kemp went on a little tear himself.

He scored 10 of Nevada's next 12 points, including a 3-pointer falling away, to give Nevada a 78-67 lead with 2:32 remaining.

Utah State wasn't through, however.

Gary Wilkinson, who was held to 12 points, drained a 3-pointer from the right side, Kris Clark tossed in a floater in the key and Wilkinson flushed one home thanks to a nifty pass by Clark to make it 78-74 with 46 seconds left.

Nevada went on to make 7-for-8 from the line to keep the Aggies out of the win column.

What was Kemp thinking down the stretch?

"Keep fighting," Kemp said. "We stayed together and got the job done."

Nevada got it done despite the onslaught by Carroll, who went 10-for-18 from the field, including 4-for-7 from beyond the 3-point arc.

"Jaycee Carroll is a great player," Fox said. "It felt like he made 10 3-pointers. He's a terrific player and representative of his team and conference. He made a three that we blocked on the way up, so give him credit."

Lyndale Burleson made Carroll a non-factor in the first half. Carroll managed just five points on 2-for-7 shooting, and that as much as anything led to Nevada's 38-30 lead.

"He's a good player," Burleson said. "I tried to stick with him. I know he likes to get his shots up and I tried to stay on his hip."

"We were more aggressive in the second half, but they were all over me," Carroll said. "They were physical, active. In the second half, we needed to make things happen."

Also, just as important, was Utah State's meltdown at the end of the half. The Aggies turned the ball over twice and also misfired twice. Five points by Armon Johnson wiped out a 28-27 Aggies lead and enabled the Pack to open up a big lead.

"They started playing real tough defense," Carroll said.

Utah went on a 7-0 run early in the second half, slicing Nevada's lead to 42-37 with 16:51 left. Tai Wesley hit from the key, and Carroll converted a three-point play and a basket.

Nevada bounced back with a 16-4 run led by David Ellis, JaVale McGee and Armon Johnson. The burst upped the Pack's lead top 58-41 with 12:46 left.

Ellis started the surge with a jump shot, and following a steal by Demarshay Johnson, Kemp converted a three-point play for a 47-37 lead. After a basket by Kris Clark, Ellis scored on a layup and Armon Johnson scored on a floater and a 3-pointer from the corner for a 54-39 lead.

"David Ellis played like a senior tonight," Fox said. "He's been playing well."

Johnson finished with 16 points, and certainly made his presence felt in the final half.

"I let the game come to me the whole time," he said. "My shots were there, so I took advantage of it."

"He played very well," Fox said. "He understands how to get people involved and where to find his shots. I'm really pleased with his performance."

The lead stayed in double digits for the next eight-plus minutes, as Carroll scored 17 of Utah State's next 20 points, which got Nevada's lead down to 73-64.

The loss was just the second in the Aggies' past 15 games.

"They (Nevada) played awfully well," Morrill said. "We knew what we were up against. I have no complaints. We never gave up. They are a young team that will get better."

• Contact Darrell Moody at dmoody@nevadaappeal.com, or by calling (775) 881-1281

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