LAS VEGAS – The last thing you would expect to see in a basketball locker room is a baseball bat.
One of Nevada’s graduate assistants had one in his possession as he wheeled some of the team’s equipment out of the area after Nevada stretched its win streak to five with an 81-72 win over Towson at the South Point Holiday Hoops Classic Wednesday afternoon.
Nevada has its second straight five-game winning streak and improved to 10-2 going into today’s game against UC Santa Barbara which is 1-8. Towson dropped to 7-5.
All week, Nevada coach Eric Musselman talked about Towson’s offensive rebounding and the ability to get to the charity stripe. Not only did Nevada out-rebound Towson, 36-30, but the Pack went to the line six more times (30-24 in attempts).
“Bringing the wood,” Musselman responded when a reporter asked him about the presence of the bat. In short, Musselman challenged his team.
“We wanted to punch them in the mouth; get the first hit in,” sophomore forward Cameron Oliver said.
Towson had a three-rebound advantage on the offensive glass, and Nevada had a nine-rebound margin on the defensive end with Oliver pulling down a game-high 13 while Jordan Caroline had nine.
Musselman was happy with the win, but unhappy with his team’s 17 turnovers which led to 23 Towson points.
“We have to clean up the turnovers,” Musselman said. “I was disappointed with the way we took care of the ball.”
What he had to like was his team’s ability to hold a 42-36 halftime lead despite not having Marcus Marshall for the final 14:56 of the first half, D.J. Fenner for the final 4:14 and Lindsey Drew the final 73 seconds.
All three picked up their second fouls, and that’s usually an automatic seat on the bench with Musselman.
Marshall, in fact, failed to score a point in the first half for the first time all season. Drew was also scoreless and Fenner had just four.
The Pack got major help, however, from freshman Josh Hall and Leland King. Hall scored 13 of his career-high 15 points in the opening 20 minutes and King had six of his eight. Hall scored the team’s first seven points.
Towson led 2-0 and 21-20. Nevada quickly wiped out that second Towson lead with seven straight points, including a trey from the top of the key by Oliver, and never trailed again.
Marshall more than made up for his first-half absence in the final 20 minutes.
The 6-foot-3 senior transfer was en fuego, going 5-for-8 from beyond the 3-point arc and 6-for-13 overall from the field. He was dialed in to put it mildly. There were no lucky bounces or rolls. All of his second-half baskets were nothing but net.
“Everybody stepped up (in the first half),” Marshall said. “I got a lot of open shots (in the second half). I don’t try to think that I have to carry the team on my back. I try to let the game come to me.”
Nevada opened the second half with an 11-5 run to take a 53-41 lead, as Marshall knocked down two treys from the corner, Hall had a couple of free throws and Caroline added a bucket.
The Tigers, led by Mike Morsell, ripped off nine straight points to cut Nevada’s lead to 53-50 with 11:39 left.
Nevada answered back, and again it was Marshall doing the damage.
Oliver, who attempted more free throws (14) than field goals (7), started the surge with two free throws. After Towson misfired, Marshall drained a trey in transition to make it 55-50. Towson closed to 55-53, but a 3-pointer by Fenner and two more by Marshall made it 67-53 with 8:12 left.
Towson’s Justin Gorham scored on a putback, but Caroline scored and King netted two free throws to give the Pack its biggest lead of the night, 71-55, with 6:52 left.
The lead stayed at double digits until Towson scored the last six points of the game.
Hall said the team leans on Marshall.
“I don’t think anybody can guard him,” the Pack freshman said. “We always look for him to shoot. Even if he misses a couple, we’re still looking for him to score.”
And, with 12 double-figure scoring games he has done exactly that.