RENO — Scoring points has never been Elijah Foster’s forte in his first two seasons at Nevada.
Foster tallied a career-high 18 points to lead Nevada to a 79-65 win over Loyola Marymount Monday night at Lawlor Events Center before a crowd of 6,176.
Foster’s previous best was 11 against Air Force on Feb. 10. He matched that in the first half, and was a big reason Nevada was able to open a 9-point lead.
“Just trusting the system,” Foster said after the game. “I just took what they gave me. (Marcus) Marshall and (Cam) Oliver opened up the floor. I had an idea (how many points). It’s hard to miss your points and rebounds on that big scoreboard.
“I have more confidence (this year) than last year. I worked hard in the off-season and (hopefully) carries over to the games. It’s my first double-double here, and now I’m hungry to get that every game.”
Foster admitted he couldn’t have done that when he first came to Nevada. He weighed 268, and he wasn’t in shape to go up and down the floor in coach Eric Musselman’s scheme. He’s down to 235 and moves much better.
“He (Elijah) isn’t looking to score,” Musselman said. “He plays off other people. He doesn’t force anything out there. Now we’re throwing the ball into him with his back to the basket. Last year he did all the little things.
“He worked so hard to get himself into shape. He has made big steps in terms of player development.”
What would an offensive-minded Foster do for the Wolf Pack?
“I know he was disappointed in the year he had last year,” said senior transfer guard Marcus Marshall. “He wanted to have a better year. He put extra work in before and after practice shooting the ball.
“If he continues we’ll have a three-headed monster (with Cam Oliver and Jordan Caroline), and that will open up a lot of things for us.”
Nevada knocked down 12 of its first 18 shots en route to building a 35-26 halftime advantage despite the fact that Cameron Oliver played just three minutes and D.J. Fenner logged five minutes. Both came off the bench. Oliver finished with 14 and Fenner 12.
The Pack went on a 19-9 run to take its biggest lead of the half, 30-13. Foster scored seven of his 11 first-half points in that stretch.
Foster was aggressive at the offensive end, and he’s certainly showing a lot more confidence. He started the barrage on a drive, scored on a slam off a feed from Jordan Caroline to make it 19-11. A free throw made it 26-13, and then he added another slam off a feed from Devearl Ramsey to make it 30-13.
Loyola Marymount bounced back with a 9-0 run, five from Brandon Brown, to cut the lead to 30-22. Baskets by Mattias Markusson and Shamar Johnson shaved the lead to 32-26 before three straight free throws by Lindsey Drew got the lead back to nine at the break.
The Lions wouldn’t go away, as three buckets by Shamar Johnson and five points from Kelvin Amayo trimmed the lead to 42-39 with 13:24 left in the game.
Oliver, who was banished to the bench after two first-half fouls, scored a thre-point play, dropped in a jump shot and than a vicious slam dunk to make it 49-40. After a free throw by Johnson, Foster scored to get the lead to double digits, 51-41, with 11:37 left.
“As long as we’re up four or more, two fouls and you go to the bench,” Musselman said. “Sometimes he has been off in the first half and dominates the second half. “
Still, the Lions wouldn’t go away. Steven Haney had nine points in a 2-minute span to make it 62-56 with 6:29 left. The teams traded points over the next three minutes until Oliver and Fenner got started again, and the defense made some stops.
Leading just 69-63 with 3:36 left, Oliver knocked down a 3-pointer from the top of the key and drained two free throws to make it 74-63. Fenner added a three-point play and Caroline made two free throws for a 16-point lead with 1:10 left.
“We did a good job of closing out the game tonight,” said Musselman of his team’s game-ending 10-2 run. “Our interior defense was a better tonight than at Saint Mary’s, but Saint Mary’s can make a lot of teams look bad.
“We are still figuring out roles. So many guys got a chance to contribute tonight. “
And, the Pack will need more of the same when Oregon State comes to town.