RENO — It took a little more than one half but the college basketball team that is ranked No. 7 in the country finally showed up at Lawlor Events Center.
Nevada shook off a sluggish first half on Tuesday night to storm past Brigham Young, 86-70, in the season opener for both teams. Senior Caleb Martin, who did not score a point in the first half, led the Wolf Pack rally with 21 points.
The Pack, ranked No. 7 by the Associated Press, is now 4-0 in home openers under coach Eric Musselman. The Pack has also won 20 of its last 21 games at Lawlor under Musselman and 44-of-49 overall over the last three-plus seasons.
BYU, though, made the Wolf Pack work for this latest home victory.
The Cougars, who finished 24-11 a year ago, trailed the Wolf Pack just 65-61 with 6:28 to go after a layup by Jahshire Hardnett. The Pack, though, then dominated the final five-plus minutes.
Jordan Caroline, who scored a game-high 25 points, started the domination with a layup off an assist from Cody Martin for a 67-61 lead with 5:44 to go. Caleb Martin then hit a pair of free throws and a 3-pointer as the Pack took a 72-61 lead with 4:32 to go.
It was a pair of 3-pointers by newcomer Jazz Johnson that put the Cougars away. Johnson, who finished with 12 points (three 3-pointers), hit a three for a 77-66 lead with 3:16 to go and came back with another from beyond the arc for an 82-68 lead with 2:11 left.
Johnson’s threes, though, only finished what Caleb Martin started in the second half. After a first half in which he played just four minutes and missed all four of his shots, Martin came alive after halftime.
He converted three free throws for a 37-36 Pack lead in the first minute of the second half. His first 3-pointer gave the Pack a 42-41 lead with 17:47 to go and his second cut BYU’s lead to 46-45 with 16:58 left.
Martin also had a layup three minutes later to slice BYU’s lead to just 50-49.
The Wolf Pack, which led in the game for just under 31 minutes, didn’t take the lead for good until a Caroline layup with 12:49 to play gave them a 53-52 lead. A 3-point play by Johnson stretched the lead to 59-52 a minute later, capping a 10-0 Pack run.
Caleb’s twin brother Cody didn’t score a point but was also a huge factor in the victory with 11 assists and six rebounds. Trey Porter had nine points in his Wolf Pack debut.
The Wolf Pack, now 19-4 in the month of November under Musselman, found itself in a 34-34 tie at halftime despite leading for 16:25 of the first 20 minutes. The Pack scored the first nine points of the game and seemingly could do no wrong in the first four minutes. Porter scored six of the Pack’s first eight points, all from either the free throw line or in the paint, as the Pack dominated the Cougars. BYU didn’t even get on the scoreboard until Zac Seljaas drained a 3-pointer a little more than five minutes into the game, cutting the Pack lead to 9-3.
The Wolf Pack still led 14-9 as Caroline completed a three-point play with 13:15 to go in the half and freshman Jordan Brown scored his first points in a Pack uniform on a right-handed hook in the lane with 12:35 to go.
The Cougars, however, controlled the next three minutes, outscoring the Wolf Pack 13-6 to take a 22-20 lead with 8:30 to go in the half. McKay Cannon hit a 3-pointer and Yoeli Childs, who had 10 points and nine rebounds in the first half, hit a hook in the lane to cut the Pack lead to 15-14. T.J. Haws scored on a shot off the glass to tie the game at 16-16 and two minutes later also connected on a 3-pointer from the top of the circle for the 22-20 BYU lead.
That slim lead, though, would be the last time the Cougars led in the opening half.
Corey Henson scored on a pair of layups 30 seconds apart to put the Pack back in the lead at 24-22 with 6:30 to go. Porter blocked a layup attempt by Rylan Bergersen, leading to a layup by Nisre Zouzoua at the other end for a 32-26 Pack lead with three minutes to go in the half.
BYU, though, controlled those final three minutes to for the 34-34 halftime tie. Kolby Lee scored his only two points of the half on an offensive rebound and a put-back lay-in to even the game at 34-34 with just under a minute to go before halftime.
The first half featured 27 fouls (15 on BYU) and 34 free throws (21 by the Pack). The Wolf Pack, though, struggled at the line, making just 13-of-21. Both teams struggled from the floor in the opening half. The Pack shot just 27 percent and missed 11-of-12 3-pointers. BYU shot 31 percent and missed 13-of-16 threes.
It was Caroline that kept the Pack in the game in the first half, scoring 13 points and pulling down 14 rebounds for his 28th career double-double (the sixth most in Wolf Pack history, tied with Dwyane Randall).
Caroline did most of his damage from the free throw line, making 7-of-11.
Porter, who played one season at George Mason and two at Old Dominion, also had a strong first half with seven points and seven boards to go along with three blocks.
Both the Wolf Pack and Cougars shot 38 per cent from the floor for the game. The Pack was 8-of-28 on threes, making 7-of-16 in the second half. BYU was just 6-of-31 on threes.
The Wolf Pack will host Pacific on Friday (7 p.m.) at Lawlor Events Center. BYU will host Utah Valley, also on Friday.