PHOENIX — Nevada had a short turnaround against a scrappy team with a loud fan base, even in what was technically a neutral-site game. The Wolf Pack stumbled out of the gate, had a hard time finding enough of an offensive rhythm to pull away.
Relying on grit and experience, Nevada pulled out a game when it wasn’t at its best — a sure sign of a team that could make plenty of noise in March.
Jordan Caroline had 22 points and 14 rebounds, and No. 6 Nevada used a late run to finally shake Grand Canyon for a 74-66 victory Sunday in the Colangelo Classic.
“Wasn’t pretty; from our standpoint, it was our worst game of the year,” Nevada coach Eric Musselman said. “But our locker room is extremely happy.”
Nevada (10-0) had a short turnaround after playing No. 20 Arizona State late Friday night and found itself in what felt like a home environment for Grand Canyon.
Spurred by the road version of the rowdy Havocs student section, the Antelopes (5-4) held Nevada scoreless the opening 5 1/2 minutes and were within two at halftime.
Grand Canyon continued to keep the Wolf Pack within reach, rallying each time Nevada tried to run away with it. Nevada finally put it away in the final two minutes, going on a 9-0 run to go up 71-61.
Jazz Johnson had 19 points and Caleb Martin finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds for the Wolf Pack, off to their best start of the program’s Division I era (1969-70).
Trey Drechsel had 16 points and Alessandro Lever 13 for Grand Canyon.
“I expected us to play but to be honest, I’m tired of saying our team plays well and we lose,” Grand Canyon coach Dan Majerle said. “I don’t care if it it’s the No. 6 team or whatever. We have high expectations where we want to be as a program.”
The Wolf Pack got off to a shaky start against the Sun Devils on Friday in Los Angeles, falling into an 11-point hole before rallying in the second half for a 72-66 win.
Playing in what felt an Antelopes’ home game, Nevada found itself down 11-0 in the opening five minutes while missing its first five shots.
The Wolf Pack looked as if they were ready to run away with it, going on a 16-5 run to go up 27-22. The Antelopes wouldn’t let them get out of reach, pulling to 34-32 at halftime on Matt Johnson’s last-second jumper.
Nevada used a short burst to take a seven-point lead, yet couldn’t shake the Antelopes and their roar-with-every-basket student section before finally pulling it out.
“It felt like an away game; it was supposed to be ‘neutral site’,” Caroline said. “But I like playing in places like that.”
Grand Canyon gave a Top 10 team all it could ask for, which should bode well for when the WAC season starts after the New Year.
“We keep emphasizing to our guys that we have to be the toughest team on the floor for 40 minutes all the time,” Majerle said. “And that’s not going to change in the WAC. The WAC has some very good teams
Nevada had a short turnaround, played one of its worst games of the season in a hostile environment, yet still found a way to win.
Musselman and his staff had to alter their road schedule to accommodate the short turnaround from the late game Friday night in Southern California.
The players watched far less film, were given a five-hour break in the afternoon to take a nap and ate every meal at the hotel just so they would be ready to play early Sunday afternoon.
It probably won’t happen again.
“I have to re-evaluate how I do things as well,” Musselman said. “I put the team in a predicament where it was playing in front of a student section like this easy against a team that’s so well-coached in a short amount of time.”
Nevada rarely runs plays for Caroline, yet he’s still its second-leading scorer and finds a way to have a big impact down the stretch.
Caroline helped the Wolf Pack break down Grand Canyon’s zone from the middle of the floor and hit three big free throws during the game-deciding run.
“JC’s toughness and will to win is as great as anybody I’ve ever been around,” Musselman said.
Nevada: Hosts South Dakota State on Saturday.
Grand Canyon: At Texas on Saturday.
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