RENO – The Cardiac Kids almost did it again.
Nevada fell into a 17-point first-half hole and battled back to within one point four times in second half before falling, 81-76, to Fresno State before a crowd of 10,236 fans Saturday afternoon at Lawlor Events Center.
The loss snapped a 13-game home winning streak dating back to last year’s College Basketball Invitational Tournament. It was the first loss in nine home games this season. It gave Fresno State a sweep of the season series.
Nevada dropped into a first-place tie with Boise State at 5-2. The teams square off in Boise Wednesday at 7 p.m. with first place in the Mountain West Conference at stake.
“Give Fresno State credit,” Nevada coach Eric Musselman said. “They beat us twice. They outhustled us and dominated us on the backboards, Their front line absolutely destroyed our front line.
“I thought the guards played a good game. Marcus (Marshall), Lindsey (Drew) and D.J. (Fenner) did all they could.”
Musselman said the biggest sequence of the game came with 1:41 left. Jahmel Taylor had just given the Bulldogs a 72-69 lead when he made the first of two free throws. His second shot bounced out, and Nevada was called for an over-the-back call on Marshall. Bryson Williams knocked down both free throws to make it 74-69 with 1:40 left.
“That was ballgame, set and match,” Musselman said.
For Fresno State’s Rodney Terry it was a matter of staying the course.
“We kept playing,” Fresno State coach Rodney Terry said. “We just said, ‘You know what guys, it’s going to be a 40-minute game. We know this. Keep playing. This is a long game. There’s a lot of time in this game. They’re going to make runs. Just keep working the game.’”
Nevada did cut it to 74-70 on a free throw by Marshall. Jaron Hopkins, who scored 19 off the bench, scored at the rim to make it 76-70. After Fenner misfired, Nevada fouled Paul Watson, who made it 77-70 with a single free throw. Nevada did close to 80-76 on a three-ball by Marshall with 10.9 left.
The biggest thorn in Nevada’s side was Hopkins, who had 14 of his 19 after halftime. Nevada had nobody who could stay in front of the Bulldogs’ 6-5 point guard, who came off the bench for the third straight game. And, if Nevada did contain him, he found the open players around him.
“As a point guard, I have to take care of the ball better and in the second half I did that,” Hopkins said. “I just know that I’m capable of making some plays. It was about being aggressive, getting to the Mountain West (the paint) and making some plays in the lane.”
“He’s a tough cover because of his ability to get to the rim,” Musselman said. “We couldn’t keep him from scoring at the rim. You have to step in front and take a charge or block the shot. He won the game for them.”
In the two wins over Nevada, Fresno State has scored 92 points in the paint, 50 back on Dec. 31 and 42 on Saturday.
The team seems to be struggling to find its defensive identity. It hasn’t shown the ability to get a plethora of consecutive stops during a game, or string together two or three good games defensively. That has to be troubling for Musselman & Co. because the team made its living last year on defense.
“We are definitely a different team than last year,” Fenner said. “We are more of an offensive team. One thing we have to do is get our defensive identity back. At this point of the season everybody should have bought in. On defense, you are only as good as your worst defender. We have to get everybody on board and that will win us our games.”
Fresno State broke open a tight three-point game in the first half with a 14-2 run to take a 17-point lead, 31-14, with 6:35 left.
Deshon Taylor had eight points in the surge, including a three-point play. Watson added a driving layup, Terrell Carter had a putback and Bryson Williams added two free throws.
Nevada went 1-for-5 and turned the ball over twice in that stretch.
The Pack briefly got the deficit to 11, 33-22, thanks to a three-point play by Drew, and a three and a driving layup by Marshall. The Bulldogs walked off the floor with a 39-26 halftime lead.
The Pack didn’t get much from Cam Oliver, who played just six minutes in the opening half after picking up his second foul. He went 0-for-2 from the floor and had one rebound. Jordan Caroline struggled, going 1-for-6 from the floor with three rebounds.
“We didn’t play a very good first half,” Marshall said, alluding to Nevada’s 36.4 percent effort from the floor.
Marshall did his part, scoring 16 of his 25 in the opening half. Fenner tallied 10 in the first 16 minutes.
Basketball is more than a two-man game, however, and the Pack needs Oliver to play up to his capabilities every night.
“A guy like Cam, he has had a lot of success, but you have to understand he’s still a young player,” Fenner said. “As a teammate there are certain things, little tips, that can help him be a pro like he is. We need to help so he can get better everyday.”