RENO — David Carter had to give his Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball team a little pep talk Monday night after a 69-64 victory over the Adams State Grizzlies.
“I had to tell them, ‘Hold your head up,’” the Wolf Pack coach said. “They kind of felt like they lost the game. I just told them, ‘You are 2-0 on the season. That’s something to feel good about.’”
The victory over the Division II Grizzlies in front of a Lawlor Events Center crowd of 4,932 wasn’t exactly a work of art for the Wolf Pack. The Wolf Pack turned the ball over 18 times and converted just 24-of-43 free throws.
“A win is a win,” said sophomore guard D.J. Fenner, who had a team-high 18 points. “It was definitely ugly but it’s something we can learn from.”
It wasn’t pretty for either team. Adams State’s Shakir Smith led all scorers with 21 points but the 6-foot-1 guard missed 16 of his 24 shots from the field, including eight of his 11 3-point attempts. Adams State also turned the ball over 14 times, shot just 7-of-25 (28 percent) on 3-pointers and 11-of-18 (61 percent) on free throws.
“They played the game they wanted to play,” Wolf Pack senior guard Michael Perez said of Adams State. “They made the game ugly and we kind of fell into that.”
The Wolf Pack led by as many as 14 (43-29 with 16:39 to play) and never trailed in the game. But it wasn’t easy as the Grizzlies cut the Pack lead to just 64-62 on a pair of free throws by Smith with 30 seconds to play.
“We’re happy with the win but there are things we can learn from,” Perez said.
The Pack took what seemed like a comfortable lead at 63-53 on a pair of free throws by point guard Marqueze Coleman with 3:29 to play. Adams State, though, got a lay-up and a 3-pointer by Travante Williams, a lay-up by Marcus Hall and Smith’s two free throws to cap a 9-1 run and cut the Pack lead to just 64-62.
“We missed too many free throws,” Carter said. “By missing those free throws we weren’t able to build on our lead.”
The Wolf Pack didn’t put the game away until Coleman converted a pair of free throws for a 67-62 lead with 13 seconds to go and two more with seven seconds left to make it 69-64. Those four free throws helped the junior make up for an offensive foul call on him with 38 seconds to play.
“He did a nice job down the stretch,” said Carter of his young point guard.
Adams State nearly stole the game down the stretch. The Grizzlies, though, threw the ball away on an inbounds pass with 12 seconds to play when they were trailing just 65-62. Coleman then put the game away with his four free throws.
“They played scrappy,” Wolf Pack forward A.J. West said of Adams State. “We just had to grind this one out.”
The Pack, though, made it tougher on themselves than they had to.
“Our missed free throws allowed them to get back in the game,” Perez said. “That was the biggest difference in this game.”
Fenner was just 6-of-11 from the free throw line and Ronnie Stevens was 2-of-8. The Wolf Pack also struggled from the line in a 65-49 season-opening win over Cal Poly on Saturday night, making 14-of-21.
“We just had a bad shooting night,” said Fenner of the Pack’s 56 per cent performance from the line against Adams State. “It happens. We’ll get a lot of free throw shots up in the gym (at practice) and we’ll be fine.”
When the Wolf Pack wasn’t missing free throws, they dominated the Grizzlies. Perez had 10 points in the first half and West had nine as the Pack took a 35-24 halftime lead. That 11-point lead at the break was accomplished despite missing 10-of-17 free throws.
“We’re going to correct that,” said Carter of the free throw struggles. “It’s not a concern right now.”
The Wolf Pack’s work on the boards also isn’t a concern for Carter right now. The Pack outrebounds Adams State 49-40 thankds to West’s game-high 18 boards. The 6-9 West finished with 17 points and also blocked a shot, had a steal and dished out a pair of assists.
“A.J. is a warrior on the boards,” Carter said.
West set the tone early with a dunk off a feed from Perez for a 4-0 lead a minute into the game. He also had an offensive rebound and a lay-up for a 10-4 lead five minutes into the game and converted a 3-point play for a 15-11 lead with just under 11 minutes to play in the first half.
West had 10 offensive rebounds for the game and was 7-of-11 from the floor.
“I just saw an opportunity to go to the glass tonight,” said West, who has 26 rebounds after two games this season.
The Pack offense, though, did sputter at times.
“We were playing their style too much,” Perez said. “They wanted to play fast as we got caught up in that and that’s when we started to turn the ball over.”
“One day of preparation for this team (Adams State) wasn’t enough,” Carter said. “We weren’t really ready for the way they like to run and speed things up. We played too fast at times.”
Coleman battled early foul trouble and played just 24 minutes. The junior point guard had two assists and four turnovers and took just three shots (making one) on his way to an 11-point game. Backup point guard Eric Cooper played 17 minutes and had six points, two assists and a turnover.
“He’s still trying to get a feel of playing point guard,” said Carter of Coleman. “This is just his second game at point. It’s going to take some time. But I also think he’s going to have a terrific year.”
The Wolf Pack will play three games in four days in the U.S. Virgin Islands Paradise Jam starting on Friday against Seton Hall. The Wolf Pack won’t return home to Lawlor Events Center until Dec. 7 against California.