Wolf Pack looks for help off the bench

RENO — The Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball team accomplished something last Saturday afternoon that it had not done in 192 games and almost six years.

No player came off the bench to score as much as a single point.

Head coach David Carter, though, says it’s no big deal.

“I’m not really concerned about that,” Carter said.

Carter is downplaying the fact that a single point from his bench in regulation would have avoided a 64-62 overtime loss at Wyoming against the Cowboys last Saturday. It was the first time the Wolf Pack bench did not contribute at least one point in a game since an 85-72 victory over Idaho at the Kibbie Dome on Feb. 16, 2008.

In that victory over Idaho nearly 200 games and six years ago, starters Marcelus Kemp (32 points), Armon Johnson (12), Brandon Fields (21), JaVale McGee (20) and Demarshay Johnson (zero) scored all 85 points and reserves Lyndale Burleson, Malik Cooke, Ray Kraemer and David Ellis combined for no points in 49 minutes.

The bench disappeared again on Saturday in Laramie but this time it cost the Pack a victory.

Bench players Marqueze Coleman, Ali Fall and D.J. Fenner came up empty in 40 combined minutes (0-for-9 from the field) as starters Deonte Burton (25 points), A.J. West (7), Cole Huff (5), Jerry Evans (14) and Michael Perez (11) did all the scoring.

“It doesn’t really matter who scores in the games,” Carter said.

The Pack, now 10-10 overall and 5-2 in conference play, will hope to get some sort of contribution from its bench this week when it hosts Colorado State on tonight (7:05 p.m.) and Air Force on Saturday afternoon (3:05 p.m.) at Lawlor Events Center.

Carter, though, doesn’t seem to be losing sleep over the vanishing act turned in by his bench recently. In a 96-86 double overtime victory at Fresno State last Wednesday, the Pack bench scored just four points (1-of-5 from the floor) in 34 combined minutes.

The Wolf Pack bench has not outscored its opponent’s bench in any of the last eight games. The bench drought coincides with the insertion of A.J. West into the starting lineup. The last time the Pack bench outscored an opponent was in an 80-72 win over Iona when West made his Pack debut and contributed four points and five rebounds in 17 minutes off the bench.

The combined numbers over the last two games by the Pack bench (four points, 1-of-13 shooting in 74 minutes), however, doesn’t seem to worry Carter.

“We’ve never really had a lot of scoring off our bench,” Carter said.

That’s not entirely true. The Pack has had solid scoring contributors off the bench in recent years such as Kraemer, Cooke, Brandon Fields, Kevin Panzer, Derrell Connor, Joey Shaw, Jordan Finn, Jordan Burris and others. In the NCAA tournament years Kemp and Mo Charlo sparked the team off the bench. And last year Coleman could supply a lot of energy — and points — off the bench.

And don’t forget that the Pack bench had scored a point in 192 consecutive games before Saturday. But there were some games in recent years that the bench threatened to come up empty. The bench, for example, scored just one point in a 79-76 triple-overtime win at Fresno State on Feb. 25, 2012, and had just one point in a 66-60 Western Athletic Conference tournament loss to New Mexico State on March 10, 2011.

The previous low this year by the bench was two points. It happened twice, in a 61-58 win over Wyoming at Lawlor Events Center on Jan. 4 (in two games this year against Wyoming the Pack bench scored two points) and in a 60-58 win at Cal Poly on Nov. 12.

In defense of the Pack reserves, the bench has been a bit shorthanded all season long due to injuries and eligibility issues. Forward Ronnie Stevens has missed the last month with a stress fracture in his leg and could return this week. Fall, it seems, has had nagging injury issues all year. Coleman missed a handful of games in late December and January because of an eye injury and West didn’t even make his debut until Dec. 22. Forward Chris Brown has yet to play this year because of medical issues.

“It has been a little frustrating not knowing who is going to be there every night,” Carter said. “But it is what it is and we just have to keep moving forward.”

The Wolf Pack bench has all but disappeared from the stat sheet over the past month. Over the last eight games, the bench is averaging a mere 5.2 points, 3.5 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 3.5 rebounds, 5.4 fouls and 2.0 turnovers in 37 minutes a game. The hope is that Stevens, who scored 33 points over his final four games before undergoing surgery a month ago, can boost the bench production when he returns.

“He’s day to day,” Carter said. “He still has pain in the leg.”

Coleman, who had eight games last year with seven or more points off the bench, has scored just 16 points in 74 combined minutes since returning from his eye injury five games ago. Over the past seven games, Fenner has 11 points in 93 combined minutes and Fall has a mere 10 points in 81 minutes.

“It’s about more than points,” Carter said. “We talk about being positive and negative. If you go into the game when the team is down two points and when you leave we are up two points, that was a positive performance. It’s about playing positive minutes.”

The lack of production and consistency from the bench has forced Carter to play his starters big minutes this year. Burton is averaging 38.8 minutes a game, Evans is at 32.0, Perez is a workhorse at 35.7 a game and Huff is at 31.2 All four are playing more minutes this year than ever before in their college careers. West, in his first Division I season, averages 27.2 minutes a game as a starter and would likely average more playing time if not for consistent foul trouble and mental mistakes.

Burton leads the Mountain West in average minutes played and Perez is fourth.

“It’s been pretty tiring,” said Burton, who is battling a hip injury right now that he suffered at Fresno State. “It takes a toll on your body.”

Evans, a senior, had never averaged more than 27 minutes a game (last year) before this year. Huff played just 17.4 minutes a game last year as a freshman. Perez’s high was 30.9 minutes a game two years ago at UTEP.

“Playing those two overtime games (at Fresno, Wyoming last week) was tough,” Evans said. “We’ve been playing a lot of minutes. It wears on you.”


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