RENO — After a so-so defensive effort last week against UC Santa Barbara, Nevada basketball coach Eric Musselman decided it was time to stress defense.
Whatever was said and whatever was done in the two practices since Christmas night obviously worked.
Nevada held San Jose State to a 29.2 percentage from the floor and had a substantial rebound advantage en route to an 80-55 win in the Mountain West opener for both schools before an announced crowd of 10,098 at Lawlor Events Center.
The win moved Nevada to 12-2 overall heading into Saturday’s conference game at Fresno State (4 p.m.). It also kept the Pack unbeaten at home (6-0).
The game was marred by an injury to freshman swingman Josh Hall, who fell hard to the ground after being fouled by Brandon Mitchell on a dunk attempt with 1:47 left in the first half. Hall lay motionless for several minutes, and had to be strapped up and rolled out of the arena on a stretcher and then was taken to a local hospital.
The players bonded together, according to Musselman, and wanted to win it for their fallen teammate.
“I showed the team (defensive) stats from where we were last year to this year,” Musselman said. “The whole focus has been trying to defend better. I understand we’re a real good 3-point shooting team and have a lot of offensive firepower. If you’re going to win a conference championship, you have to play defense and rebound.
“I thought we did an absolute incredible job of rebounding against a very good offensive rebounding team. We did a good job of chasing down balls. I take the blame. I probably spend too much time on offense and not enough on our shell defense.”
Musselman said last year the team worked 60-to-65 percent of the time on defense, and with good reason. The Pack wasn’t a great offensive team last year, especially from the 3-point line. That has changed this year, and Musselman has been like a mad scientist tinkering with his new weapons.
“Coach told us that if we wanted to win the conference, which we do, we had to improve our defense,” forward Jordan Caroline said. “We locked down as a whole group.
“We talked about it all week. We wanted to come out after Christmas and make a statement.”
That’s an understatement. The Spartans shot 31 percent in the first half and just 27 in the final 20 minutes. Other than Brandon Clarke (8-for-16, 18 points) and Gary Williams (5-for-12, 14 points), the rest of the team was a paltry 6-for-37.
“We did a good job of recognizing personnel and closing out on their shooters,” Musselman said. Ryan Welage was just 1-for-7 from the floor and finished with three points.
Nevada’s offense was solid throughout. The Pack shot 47.3 for the game, including 50 percent in the second half. Marcus Marshall (25), Leland King (13), D.J. Fenner (14) and Jordan Caroline (13) all reached double figures.
Nevada used surges of 9-0 and 10-2 to break open what was once a 1-point lead 6-plus minutes into the contest, and Marshall was right in the middle of both rallies.
Marshall, the 6-3 senior guard, knocked down two free throws and a 3-pointer to key the 9-0 surge and extend Nevada’s lead to 20-10 with 9:21 left in the half.
After Clarke scored a basket and free throw to make it 22-16, the Pack went on the aforementioned 10-2 run. Marshall banged in a 3-pointer from the left side, Caroline followed with a three-point play, Marshall drained a jump shot and Caroline finished it with two free throws to make it 32-18 with 5:37 remaining.
Marshall has been on a roll in the last three games, draining 16 3-pointers. He said after the game he has tweaked his mechanics, and that has helped.
Nearly four minutes later, Hall was injured, and as soon as he hit the floor, you knew it wasn’t good. He was surrounded by medical personnel immediately, and the game was held up for several minutes.
Musselman said Hall was alert and responsive in the ambulance en route to the hospital.
“They are a competitive team. It was an unfortunate situation,” Musselman said after the game. “Josh had already left his feet. He was coherent and responsive in the ambulance (on the way to the hospital. It was a head injury. It was a scary situation when it happened.”
“It was scary,” Marshall said. “I don’t think I’ve ever been on the floor when something happened like that.”
Nevada gained its biggest lead, 71-45, with 6:27 left thanks to a basket by Fenner and a 3-pointer by Marshall.
NO START FOR LINDSEY
Sophomore guard Lindsey Drew was benched for several minutes in favor of freshman Devearl Ramsey.
“Lindsey had a 6:45 a.m. flight back on Christmas morning, and he was the first one back in town,” Musselman said. “Probably because he had to be up so early to catch his flight, he was a few minutes late to practice.
“Everybody knows how I feel about Lindsey. If he’s on time between now and when we leave for Fresno, he’ll be back in the starting lineup.”
Former Damonte star John Carlson, who was ineligible until the UCSB game after transferring from San Diego Christian, made his season debut. He played a few seconds in the first half and then got in for the final two minutes of the game. He missed one free throw and pulled down two rebounds.