RENO – Marcus Marshall’s shooting struggles are hopefully a thing of the past.
Marshall, who was shooting 26 percent from the floor over the last four games and 16 percent from beyond the arc, went 5-for-8 on 3-pointers en route to a 22-point effort as Nevada knocked off Utah State, 77-66, Saturday night at Lawlor Events Center.
The win moved Nevada into a three-way tie with idle Colorado State and Boise State for first in the Mountain West Conference. All three teams are 10-4 in conference play. Nevada hosts Boise State on Wednesday at 7 p.m.
“Oh yeah, definitely,” sophomore forward Cam Oliver said when asked about the importance of picking up the big win and avenging an earlier loss. “We didn’t like the way we left Utah State. “
The Pack left no doubt in this one. There were three ties and two lead changes. Nevada enjoyed a double-digit lead the last 17-plus minutes.
And, a big reason for that was Marshall, who had scored just 31 points in the last four contests. He eclipsed the 20-point mark for the 14th time this season, but the first time since scoring 25 in an 81-76 home loss to Fresno State on Jan. 21.
“It feels pretty good (to have a big game),” the soft-spoken Marshall said after the contest. “The team and coaches have confidence in me, and the guys helped me out.
“I’m not the one to make excuses. Just doing the little things like cutting harder and reading the defense better (are things I could do better).”
Despite the mini drought, Nevada coach Eric Musselman told reporters he felt Marshall would come around.
“I was overly confident that Marcus would have a good game,” Musselman said. “He had to read about being face guarded, being shut down and a shooting slump.
“The big thing was that we wanted him to draw free-throw attempts. I don’t think he shot one free throw against Utah State. He got several of their guys in foul trouble by being aggressive and going to the basket. The 10 free throw attempts were important.”
Oliver said the team never lost confidence in its senior guard.
“We always had confidence that he would eventually get out of his slump, and when he did he would be lights out,” Oliver said. “When he is going and everybody else gets going we’re a hard team to beat.”
Marshall, Fenner and Oliver accounted for 33 first-half points, as Nevada shot 44 percent overall and 50 percent from beyond the arc to grab a 41-30 lead after the first 20 minutes.
The Pack used a strong final three minutes, strong 3-point shooting (50 percent) and 11 second-chance points to carve out the halftime lead.
Nevada outscored the Aggies 15-4 in the final 4-plus minutes.
Oliver (14 points, 10 rebounds) started the surge with a put back and two free throws, and Fenner scored on a lay-up with 2:54 left to make it 33-26. After an Oliver free throw, Utah State’s Alexis Dargenton scored on a lay-up with 2:21 remaining. Nevada scored seven of the next nine points, including a jump shot and 3-pointer by Fenner, who scored 14 of his 18 in the first half on 5-for-11 shooting.
Marshall, who struggled to a 1-for-12 effort in the earlier meeting, did knock in two 3-pointers in the first half and finished with seven points in the half.
The Aggies closed to 41-34 in the early stages of the second half on baskets by Norbert Janicek (16 points). Jalen Moore (19 points) trimmed it to 52-42 with a 3-pointer with 12:31 left.
Nevada went on an 11-4 surge over the next 4 1/2 minutes to up the lead to 17, 63-46. Jordan Caroline (15 points, 10 rebounds) started the barrage with a 3-pointer, and after a free throw by USU’s Quinn Taylor, Lindsey Drew scored on a lay-up, Leland King II scored on a put back and Caroline dropped in a free throw to make it 60-43. Julion Pearre drained a 3-pointer, but Oliver knocked one in from long range to complete the surge.
Nevada had a comfortable lead until 3-pointers by Koby McEwen and Moore helped close the lead to 72-64 with 59.6 left.