Grades: Strong close lifts Pack over Rams

Nevada’s Tré Coleman is guarded by Colorado State’s John Tonje on Jan. 4, 2023 at Lawlor Events Center in Reno.

Nevada’s Tré Coleman is guarded by Colorado State’s John Tonje on Jan. 4, 2023 at Lawlor Events Center in Reno.
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Grading the Nevada Wolf Pack’s 80-69 men’s basketball victory over the Colorado State Rams on Wednesday at Lawlor Events Center:



Jarod Lucas turned into a playmaker on Wednesday night. The 6-foot-3 shooting guard equaled his career high with four assists, three in the second half. Lucas, who played the last three seasons at Oregon State, only had as many as four assists in a game twice in his career before Wednesday, both in 2020-21. Two of Lucas’ assists against the Rams came on a crucial pair of Will Baker threes 49 seconds apart in the final three minutes of the game. Lucas, who also fed Baker for a layup in the opening minute of the second half and Kenan Blackshear for a jumper in the paint two minutes into the game, had just 20 assists this season in 15 games heading into Wednesday night. Lucas also finished with 16 points, though he did miss 5-of-7 threes. Two of his points came on free throws after Colorado State technical fouls and he was 3-of-4 on shots inside the 3-point circle. Both of his 3-pointers were important, giving the Pack a 34-30 lead with three minutes left in the first half and 50-43 with 14:45 left in the game. Lucas, who averages a dozen shots a game, took just one shot in the first 17 minutes of the game, suggesting that his focus wasn’t entirely on his own shot on Wednesday right from the opening tip.


Blackshear, the Wolf Pack’s closer, did it again Wednesday. The 6-6 point guard came alive the final six-plus minutes of the game with the Pack down 64-59. In the final 6:21 he handed out two assists, drained a 3-pointer, a short jumper and a pair of free throws, scored seven points and had a steal as the Pack outscored the Rams 21-5 down the stretch. Blackshear played just nine minutes in the first half because of two fouls. He then had a horrible first nine-plus minutes of the second half, turning the ball over four times, missing a pair of threes and picking up his third foul. He then sat the bench for two minutes and returned with eight minutes to play to help save the evening for the Pack. Blackshear finished with 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting with three assists and two steals, though he did have six turnovers. Blackshear is, without question, the Wolf Pack’s closer, willing and able to take on the responsibility of leading and guiding his teammates to victories.


Baseball pitchers have what is considered an immaculate inning, when they strike out three hitters on nine consecutive pitches to end the inning. Well, Baker had an immaculate game on Wednesday, tossing the basketball equivalent of nine consecutive strikes over his 24 minutes. He was 5-of-5 from the floor and 4-of-4 on free throws to finish with 16 points. He also had six rebounds, a block and an assist and made both his threes. None of this is new for the 7-foot center. He’s done it before, even better. He was 9-of-9 from the floor and 4-of-4 on free throws for 23 points against Norfolk State on Dec. 21. Baker has been, without a doubt, the best center minute-per-minute in the Mountain West over the last five games. He has scored 85 points in those five games (all Pack victories), shooting 31-of-44 from the floor and 19-of-20 from the line with 29 rebounds. And he’s done it all over just 127 minutes. Baker connected on what was likely the two most important buckets against Colorado State, sinking a pair of threes 49 seconds apart for a 76-67 lead with 2:07 to play. A dozen of his 16 points came in the second half (10 in the final 12:30) when he was 4-of-4 from the floor.


Coleman finished with six points, two steals, two rebounds and an assist over 34 minutes and hardly any of it came in the second half. All of Coleman’s points and steals came in the first half as well as his assist. His layup 13 seconds into the game opened the scoring and he also had a dunk for a 27-25 lead and a pair of free throws for a 38-31 lead. In the second half over 17-plus minutes he didn’t score and took just one shot, an errant three with 13:42 to play. James Moors blocked a Coleman layup attempt with 2:23 left in the opening half. Coleman, though, stole the ball from Isaiah Rivera a minute later, was promptly fouled by Rivera and then drained his two free throws. Coleman was on the floor for the final eight minutes and contributed just a rebound and a foul and, of course, helped lead the Pack defense which allowed just five points over the last seven minutes.


The 6-6 freshman was instrumental in the victory, playing the final 10-plus minutes. He seemed to blossom in front of the eyes of the 6,102 fans at Lawlor in those final 10 minutes. His hard work and hustle, grabbing two offensive rebounds, missing a layup and then sinking two free throws, all in the span of four seconds for a 56-54 Pack lead with 9:45 to go, seemed to set the tone for the Pack comeback. Williams, who has been struggling on the offensive end over the past month, then hit a crucial jumper in the paint with 6:21 to go to cut Colorado State’s lead to 64-61 and converted a 3-point play for a 70-64 lead with 4:13 left. He finished his night with a block with 69 seconds to go and a steal with 26 seconds left. The Darrion Williams that played the final 10 minutes on Wednesday can help carry the Pack to great things this season. Williams finished with 10 points (just the third time he’s been in double digits in 16 games this season), seven rebounds and two steals in 33 minutes.



The 6-8 Davidson made the most of his 16 minutes, scoring 12 points with three rebounds and an assist and a steal. He also led the team in free throws, going 6-of-7 from the line. The 12 points are his most since he had 13 against Sam Houston State on Nov. 28. Most of Davidson’s production came during his nine first-half minutes when he scored 10 points. Six of those points came when the Pack closed the half on a 13-1 run over the final 4:37. He also had a steal, offensive rebound and an assist on a Jarod Lucas 3-pointer in that stretch.


The 6-3 freshman from Chicago played seven minutes, had two rebounds, took one shot (he missed a three) and didn’t score. He also turned the ball over twice and committed a foul. All seven of his minutes came during a single stretch in the first half. The Pack was outscored 12-8 when Pettigrew was on the floor to trail 30-29 with 4:37 to go in the half. Pettigrew then never got off the bench in the second half. Pettigrew is 7-of-26 (32 percent) on threes and 16-of-54 (30 percent) from the floor overall for 50 points in 15 games. Over his last six games, though, he has scored just 12 points over just 58 minutes, going 3-of-16 from the floor.


The 6-3, 220-pound transfer from Seton Hall found a way to contribute to the victory despite playing just 11 minutes. He had a layup off a Darrion Williams pass for a 17-11 lead early in the first half and he hit a 3-pointer off a Kenan Blackshear feed to tie the game at 64-64 with 5:47 left. Powell, who finished with five points and three rebounds, also assisted on a Will Baker dunk to tie the game at 58-58 with 8:110 to go.


Foster, who simply refuses to shoot, didn’t score in his 14 minutes but he did have a pair of rebounds and two assists to go along with two fouls and a turnover. The 6-6 guard from Australia isn’t on the floor to shoot or score. He’s there because of his willingness to rebound, pass the ball and play with a physical edge. Over his last three games (against Boise State, Air Force and Colorado State) Foster has played 34 minutes and has not taken a shot, let alone scored a point. He’s also been whistled for seven fouls and has turned the ball over three times. But he also has six rebounds and four assists and when he’s on the floor someone who can shoot and score is likely on the bench getting a much-needed rest. There are all types of roles on a college basketball team and Foster gladly takes on the most unselfish one of all.


Alford is putting on a coaching clinic, somehow getting this team to play to its potential night after night. No, not everyone plays his best in every game. But there always seems to be someone to pick up the slack and fill in the production gaps for those who are having some difficulties on a given night. Few Wolf Pack teams in recent memory have played with an unselfish team-first mentality as much as this one so far this season. And we saw it on the stat sheet on Wednesday with five players scoring in double figures. We also saw it on the court with Nick Davidson giving a spark off the bench, Jarod Lucas passing the ball at the right times, Darrion Williams quietly mending his offense without forcing it, Will Baker picking his spots perfectly to have a perfect shooting night and Kenan Blackshear recovering to help carry his team to a victory down the stretch. This is all happening because of Alford’s tremendous loyalty and faith in his players. He allows them to struggle and fail and doesn’t panic when they hit a bump or two in the road. And that faith usually pays off before the game ends, like it did on Wednesday. This team is playing with a quiet confidence right now and it all starts with Alford.


The Wolf Pack won this game because it outscored Colorado State 13-1 in the final five minutes of the first half and 21-5 over the final seven minutes of the second half. But that is how teams that are playing with confidence and purpose win games at home. They seize control of the game when it matters most. The Pack was also 21-of-23 from the line compared to Colorado State’s 9-of-13. That’s not an accident or simply a gift from the officials. It is the by-product of an aggressive and disciplined mindset by a gritty and competitive team. The Wolf Pack is the best free throw shooting team in the Mountain West, sinking a conference-best 303-of-379 free throws (80 percent). This Wolf Pack team is now 8-0 at home, 13-3 overall and 3-0 in the Mountain West. We’re not sure if even Alford saw this kind of start coming. But he has clearly made this team believe it was possible. And now, it seems, they expect good things to happen and go out and make sure they do. The days of teams coming into Lawlor and stealing wins from passive Wolf Pack teams that are afraid to fight and compete in crunch time are over.


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