LAS VEGAS – For 20 minutes, the Nevada Wolf Pack did its best imitation of the gang that couldn’t shoot straight.
And, in the second half, the Wolf Pack couldn’t miss.
Nevada kept its NCAA hopes alive by shooting 79 percent from the field, including 80 percent from beyond the arc, en route to a 62-point second half and an 83-72 win over Fresno State Friday night in a Mountain West semifinal game at the Thomas & Mack Center
The win puts the Pack, 27-6, into the finals against Colorado State, a 71-63 winner against Fresno State, today at 3. Nevada won its only meeting of the season against the Rams, 85-72, last weekend in the regular-season finale.
The 62-point explosion was a Mountain West record for the Pack, surpassing the previous high of 56 points against TCU in the second half on March 10, 2011. The 11-point halftime deficit (32-21) was the third-highest Nevada has overcome this year.
Nevada set a season low in first-half points (21) and field goal percentage (23.3) vs. Fresno State. It was the fewest points Nevada has scored since the 2015-16 season opener against Coastal Carolina.
“Well, obviously it was a tale of two halves,” Nevada coach Eric Musselman said. “We played our worst first half since we’ve been together, and we probably played our best second half since we’ve been together.
“I thought the guys did a great job at halftime of keeping their composure, because we were struggling. We were searching. But these guys wanted to play Fresno. So I give them a lot of credit for their approach when we couldn’t make a basket and we weren’t playing some of our best defense.”
There’s a certain calm to Nevada. The players don’t seem to panic when they get behind.
Certainly overcoming a 25-point deficit at New Mexico earlier thi season helps.
“I think it helped a lot,” said Marcus Marshall, who finished with 28 points, 25 coming in the second half. “We’ve been in situations before, and coach told us to buckle down on defense and improve our shot selection. We buckled down on defense and took better shots and came out with a win.”
“It was imperative in the first four minutes to get stops consecutively,” added forward Jordan Caroline, who had 10 points and 10 rebounds.
While the stops didn’t come in the first four minutes of the second half, they did start to come, and when the smoke cleared Nevada had a 56-42 lead.
Trailing 40-31 with 15:47 left in the game, the Pack caught fire and went on an amazing 25-2 scoring run led by Cam Oliver (27 points) and Marcus Marshall (28 points).
Marshall drained a 3-pointer, and after a Fresno State miss, Caroline scored on a putback.
Following another miss, Oliver, who set a career best with five 3-pointers, drained a triple to make it 40-39. Following a Fresno State turnover, Marshall scored a bucket to put Nevada ahead to stay, 41-40 with 13:42 left.
The Pack wasn’t through, however.
Oliver and Marshall drained 3s before Fresno State ended the 16-0 drought with a basket by Jaron Hopkins. Nevada answered back with a jump shot from Fenner, another trey by Marshall and a tremendous 4-point play by Oliver, who was hammered on a 3-point attempt that dropped.
“It was fun,” Oliver said. “It was really fun. When we hit our shots and seeing Coach Muss waving his arms. It’s a fun thing.
“At the end of the day, basketball, you have to have fun. With a 25-point run, like I said, balls go in the basket for us. We are capable of doing a lot of great things, and when we do that, it’s fun.”
Fresno State never got any closer than 10 points the rest of the way.
“I wouldn’t say surprised,” said Fresno State’s Paul Watson. “Basketball is a game of runs. It was going to happen. It was bound to happen eventually. Unfortunately, we just didn’t deal with it the way we were supposed to and it ended up hurting us in the second half.”
“A lot of things contributed (to their second half),” Fresno State coach Rodney Terry said. “Some self-inflicted things, giving them an opportunity to get momentum.
“They are a feel-good team, and we gave them a chance to feel good down the stretch, and you can’t do that this time of the year.”
Musselman said a key to a better defensive effort was changing the way Nevada defended Fresno State’s pick and roll attack.
“Normally we play defensive pick-and-roll coverages one way,” he said. “We actually had three different coverages. We did not shoot around today.
“We had a walk-through in the ballroom. We walked through three different coverages, because (Jaron) Hopkins has hurt us. We played the same exact way in the first half, in our pick-and-roll coverages, then we went to two others, that we called plan B and plan C, and I thought that really helped us in the second half.”