RENO — The Wolf Pack, playing its first game in over a week, got a good workout and an easy 91-73 victory over the Texas Southern Tigers Wednesday night at Lawlor Events Center.
“This definitely feels good,” said Jalen Harris who along with Lindsey Drew led the Pack in scoring with 18 points each. “We didn’t shoot the ball that well at BYU (in a 75-42 loss on Dec. 10) and we put an emphasis on that this week in practice. We scored 91 points and we always want more. But that is definitely a good number.”
The Pack, now 8-4, has now scored 90 or more points in back-to-back home games. The Pack beat Santa Clara 98-67 two weeks ago in its only other home game this month.
“I like how we got to the free throw line,” Pack coach Steve Alford said. “That is a big key for us. That takes pressure off us.”
The Wolf Pack was 29-of-31 from the line, setting a season high for free throws made. Texas Southern, which got a game-high 32 points from guard Tyrik Armstrong, was also 25-of-30 from the line as the two teams combined for 51 fouls. K.J. Hymes fouled out for the Pack after playing just 13 minutes and three other Pack players had four fouls. Two Texas Southern players fouled out.
“That’s a typical game that you will see coming out of Finals week,” said Alford, whose Wolf Pack’s practices were disrupted last week by semester final exams. “We’ve been very sensitive to Finals and working our practice schedule around that.”
“The fouls kind of slowed the game down,” said Drew, who also had 10 rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block to go along with his 18 points in 29 minutes. “But when that happens you just have to keep playing defense.”
A crowd of 8,131 saw the Wolf Pack outscore the Tigers 50-38 in the second half. The Pack shot 56 per cent (15-of-27) in the second half and made 5-of-12 threes. Texas Southern fell to 3-7 with six of the losses coming by 12 points or more.
“I didn’t like anything I saw in the first half,” said Alford. “But I was proud of the way we played after the half.”
The Wolf Pack, now 4-2 this season at home, built a 41-35 lead by halftime despite turning the ball over eight times and missing eight of 11 3-point attempts. Texas Southern was just 10-of-39 (26 percent) from the floor in the first 20 minutes and missed 8-of-9 3-pointers. The Tigers were just 4-of-25 on threes for the game.
The Pack jumped out to an 8-2 lead less than three minutes into the game but then saw its offense dry up. The Pack went more than five minutes without a point and more than nine minutes without a field goal as Texas Southern built a 20-12 lead with nine minutes to play in the half.
The Tigers, which lost by 35 points to San Diego State, 31 to Arkansas and 39 to Gonzaga already this year, went on a 9-0 run to take an 11-8 lead. Former Wolf Pack guard John Jones, whose father Johnny is a former Pack assistant coach (2017-18 season) and is now the Tigers’ head coach, drained a 3-pointer for 16-10 Texas Southern lead with 10 minutes to play.
A 3-point play by Drew with 7:48 to play, the Pack’s first field goal since a Harris jumper with 17:16 to go in the half, pulled the Pack within 20-19. Drew, who had 15 first-half points, also capped a 10-0 Wolf Pack run with a 3-pointer, giving the Pack a 22-20 lead with 7:15 left in the half.
Drew was 6-of-8 from the floor in the first half and also had five rebounds, three assists and two steals. His second 3-pointer of the half gave the Pack a 34-28 lead with just over three minutes left and capped a 7-0 run. The run also featured dunks by Zane Meeks and Harris and wiped out the last Texas Southern lead (28-27) of the game.
Jazz Johnson scored nine points in the first half and gave the Pack a 41-35 lead with a 3-pointer with four seconds to play before the break. Johnson’s first six points of the half came from the free throw line. He was 7-of-7 from the line for the game for 12 points.
“We had an interesting talk at halftime in the locker room,” said Harris, who was 10-for-10 from the line for the game.
“I challenged the guys at the half,” Alford said. “We asked them, ‘Who is going to fight more in the second half? Will it be Texas Southern or will it be us?’”
The Pack quickly answered the question in the second half.
The Wolf Pack, which has won six of its last seven games after a 2-3 start, scored the first 11 points of the second half. Johncarlos Reyes had a dunk and a layup, Robby Robinson had a layup, Harris converted a pair of free throws and Johnson had a 3-point play, giving the Pack a 52-35 lead with 16:27 to play.
Texas Southern finally scored in the second half with 16:07 to go on a layup by Yahuza Rasas, cutting the Pack lead to 52-37.
“We established what we wanted to do in the first four or five minutes of the half,” Alford said. “That was good to see.”
Nisre Zouzoua, who did not score in the first half, hit a pair of jumpers three minutes apart to give the Pack a 65-47 lead with just under 12 minutes to go. Meeks, who had 11 points on three threes, also had a 3-pointer for a 61-45 lead with 12:47 go play after a 3-point play by Hymes gave the Pack a 58-45 lead 30 seconds earlier.
Drew scored his only points of the second half on a 3-pointer for a 75-58 Pack lead with 8:04 to play. The senior point guard’s 18 points against Texas Southern are his most since he scored 24 against Loyola Marymount in the second game of the season on Nov. 9. His high game this year is 30 against Utah in the season opener on Nov. 5.
Meeks’ third 3-pointer of the game gave the Pack an 83-64 lead with 4:48 to go. That was followed by jumpers by Reyes and Harris as the Pack took an 87-67 lead with 3:32 left.
Alford was impressed with the Pack bench in the second half. The Pack reserves scored 23 points in the second half after scoring just five in the first half. Meeks led the bench with 11 points but Hymes had eight and Zouzoua added seven.
“Our bench didn’t do much at the start of the game,” Alford said. “I didn’t think the bench was ready to play tonight. But they played very well in the second half.”
The Wolf Pack will play St. Mary’s on Saturday at the Chase Center in San Francisco in the Al Attles Classic and then will take 10 days off before hosting Colorado State on New Year’s Day at Lawlor Events Center (7 p.m.).