RENO — Nevada remained perfect at home Wednesday night, but there were plenty of bumps along the way.
The Wolf Pack bolted to a 15-point first half lead, allowed Air Force to tie the game with some sub-par defense, and then got five free throws and two 3-pointers in the final three minutes from Marcus Marshall to grab an 83-76 win before a crowd of 8,462 at Lawlor Events Center.
The win was Nevada’s eighth straight at home this year and 13th straight dating back to last season. Nevada improved to 16-3 and 5-1 in conference heading into Saturday’s game at home against Fresno State.
“Obviously we did enough to win,” Nevada coach Eric Musselman said. “I thought D.J. (Fenner) was absolutely phenomenal in his effort and energy. He carried us that first half. Lindsey Drew with his ball movement and then Marcus with clutch shooting and free throws we really needed.
“We have to shore up our defense in the second half. We had too many turnovers (13) and our transition defense has to improve. It hurt us. That and free throws attempted. Air Force got into the bonus early in the second half. Our interior defense has to get better. Toohey (Frank) did whatever he wanted.”
The defensive issues arose after Nevada used a 12-0 half-ending run to grab a 15-point halftime edge, 42-27.
Instead of building on that momentum, Nevada and Air Force traded baskets for the first five-plus minutes before Air Force went on a 21-8 run, tying the game at 59 with 8:49 left on a basket by Hayden Graham.
Ryan Manning had seven of his 15 in that stretch and Frank Toohey had four of his 15.
Air Force was beating Nevada down the floor that resulted in lay-ups or open shots.
Musselman admitted the second half was one of the worst halves his team has played all year. He said that back cuts by Air Force bothered his team.
“I think we got complacent in the second half,” Fenner said. “We need to take that energy (from the first half) and take it through the rest of the game.”
Nevada bounced back with an 11-5 run to take a 70-64 lead with 3:22 left.
Fenner snapped the tie with a jump shot, and after an Air Force turnover, Marshall scored. Graham’s 3-ball made it 63-62, but Cam Oliver answered with a three-point play and a 66-62 lead. Baskets by Fenner and Oliver stretched the lead to 70-64.
Marshall stepped up with two big 3s to make it an eight-point game. He finished with 25, extending his streak of double-figure games to 19.
“I wanted to stay aggressive,” Marshall said. “I didn’t shoot it that well from 3 (tonight).”
While it was Marshall down the stretch, it was Fenner from the outset. The 6-6 senior, who scored a career-high 30, scored 21 in the first half to stake Nevada to a 42-27 lead. The Pack shot a season-best 57.6 from the field.
Fenner went 7-for-11 from the floor in the opening half, including 3-for-4 from beyond the arc. He had 10 early, including eight straight, to get Nevada off to a 19-10 lead.
Fenner missed a day of practice this week because of a migraine, and he felt it coming on again earlier in the day. He said he took a nap and a long, hot shower.
“I was more aggressive,” he said. “I felt confident, and hopefully I can carry it over to the next game.”
Fenner moved up to No. 20 on the all-time scoring list, passing both Marqueze Coleman and Dario Hunt with his career effort. Fenner is now at 1,118 career points.
Air Force, despite being much smaller, outrebounded Nevada, 37-27, including 11-5 on the offensive glass.
“You would think that Cameron (Oliver) and Jordan (Caroline) would grab more than two offensive rebounds between them, but they didn’t,” Musselman said.
“Air Force played hard. I thought they played a good game tonight.”
Cameron Oliver was late to a team activity on Tuesday, and didn’t start. He entered the game after six minutes, and had three points and three rebounds in the first half. He finished with 10 points and five rebounds.