FRESNO, Calif. — How does a seven-game winning streak end?
Not trying to be poetic, but let’s count the ways.
Nevada gave up 18 offensive rebounds leading to 18 second-chance points.
Played poor interior defense, allowing Fresno State to score 50 points in the paint.
Didn’t take care of the ball. Nevada turned the ball over 17 times leading to 21 Bulldog points.
Despite all those negatives, Nevada stayed in the game until the final buzzer before falling, 77-76, before a crowd of 6,043 at the SaveMart Center.
The loss snapped Nevada’s seven-game win streak, dropping the Pack to 12-3 overall and 1-1 in conference heading into a big game Wednesday at home against defending Mountain West regular-season champ San Diego State.
Nevada, which blew a 10-point second half lead, trailed 77-76 with 5.6 left after Fresno State’s Cullen Russo missed two free throws. Nevada got the rebound, but Marcus Marshall was unable to convert a long 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Nevada coach Eric Musselman had talked earlier in the week that defense (and rebounding) were the keys to winning close game, and those two things didn’t happen.
“We didn’t rebound, we didn’t play interior defense and we turned it over,” Musselman told local reporters after the game. “It was a miracle it was a 1-point game.
“The 3-ball. We made 13 3s (in 31 attempts). That kept us in the game.”
The 13 3-pointers matched the season high set against UC Irvine. Nevada attempted 31, and Musselman said he has no problems with attempting that many if his team can shoot 40 percent like it did Saturday.
Nevada had a 10-point lead, 61-51, with 11:09 left. Fresno State, though, rallied to take a 69-66 lead on Jahmel Taylor’s three-point play with 6 minutes left.
D.J. Fenner (18 points) tied the game at 69 with a 3-ball. With 56 seconds left Fenner then he put Nevada ahead, 73-71, with 56 seconds left.
That’s when the game went south on the Pack.
On the ensuing possession, Jaron Hopkins drove uncontested down the lane, tying the score at 73 with 46 seconds left.
Nevada turned the ball over on its next possession when Cameron Oliver got lazy, and Hopkins made him pay. Hopkins stole the ball and went coast-to-coast for a layup to give the Bulldogs a 75-73 lead with 33 seconds to play.
It was one of many unforced errors Nevada made in the hotly contested contest.
“Cam’s turnover was really costly,” Musselman said. “He was careless and not being alert to time. He was trying to hand the ball off to Marcus. Hopkins is a great defender.”
“We had a lot of turnovers in the first half, an we talked about that, but it didn’t change in the second half,” Fenner said.
Fenner himself was called for traveling with 13.4 left, and Nevada was forced to foul. Fresno State’s Paul Watson drained two free throws to make it 77-73 with 13 seconds left. Marshall gave Nevada a glimmer of hope when he buried his fifth and final 3-pointer to make it 77-76.
That set the stage for Cullen’s inability to finish the game at the line, and for Nevada’s one final attempt to win.
“I couldn’t ask for a better look,” Marshall said. “Unfortunately I missed it. It meant a lot that my team and coaches had confidence in me to take the last shot.”
“We had a play drawn up,” Musselman said. “Marcus maybe could have taken one more dribble. It’s not just that. It was the culmination of a lot of things.”
Marshall said the team needs to learn from the setback, and every coach will tell you that you learn more from losses than you do from wins.
“This is similar to Iona,” Marshall said. “We have to play every possession. I think we took a couple of possessions off offensively and defensively. We have to play a full 40 minutes, and I don’t think we did that tonight.”
Marshall certainly did what he could. He scored 11 points at the start of the second half to give the Pack a 48-41 lead, but he only had one bucket until his big three at the end of the game.
“They trapped him; corralled him,” Musselman said. “They put two guys on him.”
One thing is certain: the Pack needs more from Oliver. He missed double figures the previous two games, and because of foul trouble he was off his game again. He finished with 11 points and seven rebounds, all on the defensive glass, in just 22 minutes of play.
Oliver had just five points and Jordan Caroline had one bucket in a sub-par first half that saw the Bulldogs take a one-point lead, 33-32, into the locker room thanks to 12 points by Watson, 11 from Taylor and a couple of put backs by Bryson Williams.
The Wolf Pack got next to nothing from Oliver and Jordan Caroline, who managed a combined seven points on 3-for-8 shooting from the field. Not exactly the best way to win a game when those two aren’t producing.
Had it not been for 10 from Marshall and six by Leland King, who took over Fenner’s sixth-man role, the Bulldogs might have been up by more
“With seven scholarship guys (until Josh Hall returns from his concussion), Cam has got to step up,” Musselman said.