LOS ANGELES — Sixth-ranked Nevada played what might be its only ranked opponent of the regular season. The Wolf Pack knew a win could help bolster their case come March.
Yet coach Eric Musselman couldn’t believe how his team responded to start the game.
“Coach mentioned at halftime, ‘You finally meet some talent and this is how you react?’” Caleb Martin said. “It kind of turned some guys up in the locker room.”
Martin scored 14 of his 17 points in the second half, rallying the Wolf Pack past 20th-ranked Arizona State 72-66 Friday night in the Basketball Hall of Fame Classic tripleheader.
“The second half showed our maturity and showed our experience with each other,” Martin said.
Jordan Caroline added 16 points and eight rebounds for the senior-dominated Wolf Pack (9-0), off to their best start since the Division I era began in 1969-70.
“I thought we were going to win it the whole time,” Caroline said. “We knew what we had to do.”
Luguentz Dort scored 24 points and Zylan Cheatham had 13 points and 10 rebounds for the Sun Devils (7-1), whose 20-game, regular-season, non-conference winning streak ended.
“We got a lot to learn from it,” said Cheatham, who didn’t score over the final 14 minutes.
Remy Martin’s 3-pointer drew the Sun Devils to 64-63 with 1:39 to play, but Cody Martin got fouled and made both. After Dort made 1 of 2 free throws, Cody Martin’s layup kept Nevada ahead 68-64.
Caleb Martin’s layup tied the game at 48-all after the Wolf Pack trailed by 16 in the first half.
From there, Nevada outscored ASU 24-18 to complete the comeback.
“Nevada, they’re older, they have a lot of seniors on their team and they’ve been a very good second-half team,” Sun Devils coach Bobby Hurley said. “They found another gear in that half.”
But the first 20 minutes belonged to ASU.
The Sun Devils stunned the Wolf Pack to start the game, racing to a 23-8 lead that included 11 points in a row.
“They came out as aggressive as any team that we’ve seen,” Musselman said.
Nevada was just 8 of 25 from the floor in the half. The Martin twins combined for 1 of 9 shooting and four points. Caleb Martin missed all six of his 3-point attempts and neither twin had a rebound.
“We might be in a deeper hole than we should be at halftime, but with the guys we have we’re not going to fold,” Martin said.
ASU: The Sun Devils had 17 turnovers. ... They controlled the boards, 40-31.
Nevada: Musselman earned his 90th victory in his fourth season. ... Caleb Martin missed 9 of his 10 3-point attempts. ... The Wolf Pack was back in Los Angeles for the second time in a week, having won at USC last Saturday.
Nevada is one of eight undefeated teams remaining in Division I.
“Every night it’s been like this for us with a tremendous amount of pressure,” Musselman said.
THE BEST FOR LAST
After blowout wins for Saint Mary’s and TCU in the night’s first two games, the night cap was a thriller. Nevada and ASU had good turnouts by their fans who created a raucous atmosphere in cavernous Staples Center. “It felt like an NCAA tournament type of game,” Hurley said.
ASU: At Georgia on Dec. 15 in the second of three straight road games.
Nevada: At Grand Canyon on Sunday to conclude a stretch of six straight on the road.