RENO — Eric Musselman sure knows how to celebrate his birthday.
“I told him, ‘We’re going to get you a win for your birthday,’” Wolf Pack guard Jazz Johnson said Monday night. “And we got it for him. So, ‘Happy birthday, Muss.’”
Musselman, who turned 54 on Monday, saw his No. 6 Wolf Pack blow out the California Baptist Lancers 90-55 in front of a crowd of 9,395 at Lawlor Events Center.
That crowd, the first this season in four home games under 10,000, sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to the Pack coach late in the game during a timeout.
“I heard it,” Musselman smiled. “It was pretty cool. Nice of them. I’m glad we were up by a lot.”
The 35-point victory is the fourth largest in the four-year Musselman era at Nevada, after a 108-57 win over Holy Names and a 119-70 victory over Fresno Pacific, both at Lawlor in November 2015, and a 94-58 win at UNLV in February 2017.
The game against the Lancers was Musselman’s first on his birthday since he came to Nevada. When asked if he has ever played a game on his birthday before Monday, the Pack coach answered, “If I have it probably didn’t end well because I don’t remember it.”
The Pack, now 4-0, gave Musselman a lot to remember about his 54th birthday, shooting 51 percent from the floor (29-of-57) and going to the free throw line 38 times, making 27. Six Pack players scored between 10 and 16 points and nine played between 14 and 28 minutes.
The Wolf Pack is now 25-0 in non-league games at home and 47-5 overall at home under Musselman.
“Our team is getting better and better,” Musselman said.
Musselman, though, wasn’t happy with the Wolf Pack’s offense in the first 10 minutes of the game. The Wolf Pack trailed 14-13 after 10 minutes against the Lancers, a team in its first year in Division I (Western Athletic Conference) after making the move from Division II.
“We were stagnant, the ball didn’t move,” Musselman said. “We’re not going to be able to play like that and win with the schedule we have coming up.”
The Wolf Pack, which led for 34 minutes, took complete control of the game over the final three minutes of the first half and the first four minutes of the second half. The Pack turned a tenuous 32-24 lead with 2:45 to go in the first half into a 51-24 lead with 16:07 to play with a game-changing 19-0 run.
The first 10 points of the run came at the end of the opening half as the Pack took a 42-24 halftime lead.
Tre’Shawn Thurman, who had just four points in 18 first-half minutes, keyed the late Pack run in the first half. It was a Thurman dunk, off a feed from Jordan Caroline, that started the run. Thurman’s only other basket of the opening half was a layup for a 41-24 Pack lead with 1:09 to go in the half that came off his own steal. Thurman, who finished with 10 points, also fed Caleb Martin for a layup and a 39-24 lead with 1:24 left in the half.
Trey Porter, who scored the first four points of the game, finished the game with 14 points. He had nine points in just 13 first-half minutes. Porter also had a dunk off an offensive rebound for a 22-16 Pack lead and a layup for a 24-19 lead.
“I felt a lot more comfortable and relaxed,” said Porter, who scored 14 points in the Pack’s first three games combined.
Johnson had a pair of 3-pointers in the first half and finished the game with three. Johnson, who has had exactly three threes in each of the Pack’s first four games, gave the Pack a 28-19 lead with 5:12 left in the half with his first three and his second gave the Pack a 37-24 advantage with 2:02 to go. Johnson was 2-of-4 beyond the arc in the opening half while the rest of the Pack team was 0-for-6.
“Since I’ve been here, Jazz is the guy who changes the game the most coming off the bench,” Musselman said. “He’s a big part of who we become as the game progresses.”
Johnson drained his third and final 3-pointer of the game for a 56-26 Pack lead with 14 minutes to go.
“I’m really confident now,” Johnson said. “I basically feel like all the shots I’m taking are going in. My teammates are doing a great job finding me and getting me great looks.”
The Wolf Pack enjoyed a huge advantage at the free throw line in the first half. That advantage (16-3) would have been even larger had the Wolf Pack shot better than 16-of-24 (67 percent). The Pack improved from the line in the second half, making 11-of-14. California Baptist was just 11-of-17 from the line for the game.
“We watched Tulsa (which beat the Lancers 82-79 on Friday) get to the line 40 times against them,” Musselman said. “We wanted 40, so we fell two short of our goal.“
“Muss told us we had to get to the basket and not settle for threes,“ Johnson said.
The Wolf Pack had four players with four or six successful free throws. Porter and Caleb Martin each had six while Jordan Brown and Jordan Caroline each had four.
California Baptist (2-2), which was whistled for 16 personal fouls in the first 20 minutes and 12 over the final 20, made all three of its free throw attempts before halftime. The Lancers, though, shot just 9-of-33 (27 percent) from the floor in the first half and 31 percent (19-of-61) for the game.
The Pack scored the first nine points of the second half to take a 51-24 lead.
Porter had a pair of free throws and a 3-point play on a dunk and another free throw in the first three-plus minutes of the second half. Caleb Martin (14 points) also had a dunk and a short jumper.
Freshman Jordan Brown led the Wolf Pack in points (16) and minutes (28). The 6-foot-11 Brown was 6-of-8 from the floor and also had five rebounds. He had 20 points combined over the Pack’s first three games.
“Jordan was real good down low,” Musselman said. “We just kept throwing it in there, throwing it in there.”
Another Wolf Pack newcomer, senior Corey Henson, drained his first two 3-pointers of the season. His first gave the Pack a 63-29 Pack lead with 12 minutes to go and his second closed the scoring for the game with four seconds to play. Henson had gone 0-for-4 over the Pack’s first three games on 3-pointers after making 180 3-pointers in three seasons at Wagner before coming to Nevada.
The Wolf Pack will now head out on the road for six consecutive games starting Thursday and Friday in Las Vegas. The Pack will play Tulsa on Thanksgiving at 1 p.m. and either Massachusetts or Southern Illinois on Friday night (7 or 9:30 p.m.). Both games will be televised on Fox Sports One and are part of the Las Vegas Holiday Invitational at the Orleans Arena.
The Pack will also play at Loyola Chicago on Nov. 27 and will meet USC in Los Angeles on Dec. 1 and Arizona State, also in Los Angeles, on Dec. 7. The final game of the road trip will be Dec. 9 against Grand Canyon in Phoenix.
The next Pack home game will be Dec. 15 against South Dakota State.
“We still have a lot of work to do,” Johnson said. “We played well but with the teams we have to play we have to do better.”