RENO — When Nevada moves the ball well, the result is a lot of open shots, and if you give Kendall Stephens an open look, you’ll be sorry.
Stephens, the transfer from Purdue, poured in a career-high 30 points thanks to a career-tying seven 3-pointers, to spark the 20th-ranked Wolf Pack to an 80-67 win over last-place San Jose State on Wednesday at Lawlor Events Center.
Nevada improved to 13-2 in conference and 24-5 overall heading into Sunday’s home finale against Colorado State at 1 p.m.
Though at times Nevada played uninspired, it was tough to fault the offense. When you are minus Lindsey Drew and only get 10 combined points from Caleb and Cody Martin and you score 80, that’s very good.
“I was impressed with our ball movement,” coach Eric Musselman said. “Nineteen assists on 27 baskets. Possibly the best (ball movement) we’ve had. We’re a special offensive team. We shot the ball very well from 3 and we played well enough to win the game.”
Give a lot of credit to Stephens for that. He scored his 30 points in 34 minutes. He is making the most of his only season at Nevada, and he is likely to break the school record for made 3-pointers.
“Kendall is one of the best shooters in the country,” Musselman said. “He has NBA range and he shoots like an NBA player. I don’t think he takes many bad shots. He took 16 3s tonight and every time he shoots we think it’s going in. It really helps because it opens dribble-drives for everybody else. His teammates do a good job of trying to find him.”
Marcus Marshall knocked down 115 3’s last year, and Stephens already has 104 with three regular-season games left plus the Mountain West Tournament and probably the NCAAs. The duo are the only two in Nevada history to eclipse the 100 mark. Stephens has had 11 games where he’s made five or more 3-pointers.
“Marcus valued winning over the record,” Stephens said. “I don’t really care either as long as we finish the season successfully. It’s been a special year. Lindsey (Drew), Cody (Martin) and Hallice (Cooke) are always looking to be unselfish.”
And, despite tying his own record with seven 3-pointers, Stephens felt he should have done more considering he got some pretty good looks all night.
“I really wish I could have made more shots,” said Stephens, who went 9-for-19 shooting overall. “There were a lot I missed. I’ll take it (the 30) and I’ll also take the win.
“It was ugly (tonight). We just had to grind it out. What it comes down to is getting consecutive stops and we struggled with that, but we got a win.”
The key was building a 13-point halftime lead, 42-29. The teams played even in the second half, and nobody in Nevada gear was happy about that.
“I think we were ready the first half, but we took our foot off the gas the second half,” forward Jordan Caroline said. “A win is a win.”
San Jose stayed in striking distance throughout because it shot 50 percent in the second half, and the Pack was unable to contain Ryan Welage, who scored 22 points on 8-for-15 shooting, and Oumar Barry, who was tough to stop inside at times. Nevada tried to front him without a lot of success.
“I thought we played OK defense, decent in the first half,” Musselman said. “Words I won’t use in the second half. We were going to play Barry 1-on-1 because Welage is a scoring threat. We didn’t think Barry could beat us. We were willing to let Barry and (Ashtin) Chastain rumble around down there. They get 2’s and we’ll get 3’s.”
The Pack went 8-for-20 beyond the arc in the first half, as Stephens and Hallice Cooke dropped in four apiece.
Cooke, starting in place of the injured Drew, went 4-for-8 from the floor, all 3-pointers, and Stephens went 4-for-9 from the field, including 3-for-8 from beyond the arc.
All four of Cooke’s 3-pointers came when Nevada used a 15-5 surge to grab a 20-12 lead seven minutes into the game.
And, Cody Martin seemed content to distribute despite coming off a 30-point effort against Utah State. Martin took just three shots all night, but had 10 rebounds and seven assists.
“I can’t say enough how unselfish Cody is,” Musselman said. “I find it hard to believe many (players) in the country coming off 30 points (would) only take three shots (the next game).”