RENO — The Nevada Wolf Pack literally shook Lawlor Events Center to its rafters Saturday night.
“After I took that charge I could feel the vibration of the arena, the crowd was so loud,” smiled Wolf Pack freshman Cam Oliver. “It was kind of scary.”
A crowd of 11,341, the fifth largest crowd in Lawlor Events Center’s 33-year history, saw the Wolf Pack stun the UNLV Rebels 65-63 to improve to 12-7 overall and 4-3 in the Mountain West. It was the Wolf Pack’s fourth win its last six meetings with its Silver State rival.
“They pretty much feel like there is no rivalry,” Wolf Pack senior Tyron Criswell said of the Rebels. “But we’ve won four of the last six so we know there’s a rivalry.”
The Wolf Pack won the game down the stretch from the free throw line. The last nine Wolf Pack points over the final 4:30 and 17 of the last 21 over the last 8:39 came from the line. The Pack outscored the Rebels 27-14 from the line for the game.
“We played five guards down the stretch and that opened up our dribble drive lanes and we were able to get to the line,” Pack coach Eric Musselman said. “We rolled the dice. After Cam got his fourth foul (with 10:32 to play) I just looked at one of my assistants and said, ‘We’re going with five guards. This is either going to work or it’s going to completey blow up in our face.”
UNLV’s Ben Carter made a pair of free throws after Oliver’s fourth foul to give the Rebels a 49-40 lead with 10:32 to play. It took the Pack just under five minutes to regain the lead at 54-53 with 5:39 to go. Criswell had a dunk and Marqueze Coleman hit jumper to kickstart the comeback, cutting UNLV’s lead to just 49-44 with 8:39 to go.
The bulk of the rest of the comeback was accomplished at the free throw line as Coleman made 5-of-6 and Fenner drained all three after getting fouled on a 3-point attempts by UNLV’s Ike Nwamu. Fenner then stole the ball from Patrick McCaw and went in for the dunk that gave the Pack a 54-53 lead with 5:39 to go.
It was at that point the crowd erupted and Lawlor came alive.
“You could feel the electricity,” Musselman said.
“That was the loudest I’ve heard it since I’ve been here,” Coleman, a senior, said.
UNLV took back the lead at 60-58 as Carter scored three points, on a jumper with 3:07 to go and a free throw with 1:45 left. The rest of the game was a free throw shooting contest as the Pack made 7-of-10 over the final 1:26. Coleman, who had a game-high 21 points, was 15-of-20 from the free throw line and the Pack was 27-of-37 as a team. UNLV was 14-of-28.
The charge Oliver took that prompted the crowd noise to shake the arena came with 44 seconds to go. Oliver, with the Pack up 61-60, stepped in front of UNLV’s Jordan Cornish to preserve the slim lead.
The Wolf Pack needed every free throw it could get. The Pack missed all nine of its 3-point attempts and shot just 33 percent (19-of-58) from the floor overall.
“If you would say you were going to go 0-for-9 on three balls you’re probably not going to win many games,” Musselman said.
“We just played harder (than UNLV),” said Criswell, who had 11 points and 10 rebounds. “Coach (Musselman) always preaches to us about effort. And that was our best effort out on the floor tonight.”
The Wolf Pack held UNLV’s 7-foot freshman center Stephen Zimmerman to just seven points. Zimmerman was just 3-of-4 from the floor and 1-of-6 from the free throw line and also turned the ball over five times.
“Our guys did a phenomenal job of fronting the post,” Musselman said. “We made it tough on him.”
The Wolf Pack, especially when it played five guards (Coleman, Drew, Criswell, Fenner and Eric Cooper), simply swarmed Zimmerman.
“We knew he couldn’t stay in front of any of the five guards we had on the floor,” Coleman said.
“He was definitey frustrated,” Criswell said. “I think he felt like we were everywhere.”
No Rebel scored in double figures. Carter led UNLV with nine points as the Rebels shot 48 percent from the floor but just 16 percent (3-of-19) on 3-pointers.
“The crowd was a big reason why we won,” Musselman said. “They were absolutely phenomenal. It was like when I was at LSU and we played at Kentucky. It gave you goosebumps.”
UNLV, which brought a three-game winning streak to Lawlor, fell to 12-8, 3-4. The loss to the Pack was its first in four games since it fired coach Dave Rice and replaced him with assistant Todd Simon. The Wolf Pack will host San Diego State on Tuesday night (8 p.m.) at Lawlor Events Center.
“This gives us momentum in the community,” said Musselman of the victory over UNLV. “It’s an attention grabber for the student body. And I do think in the community it is a big statement game.”