University of Nevada basketball team squanders another lead, falls to Aggies |

University of Nevada basketball team squanders another lead, falls to Aggies

Joe Santoro
Special to the Nevada Appeal

RENO ” What a difference two days doesn’t make.

The Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball team suffered its second consecutive stunning loss in 48 hours Saturday night, falling to the New Mexico State Aggies, 62-60, at Lawlor Events Center. The five-time defending Western Athletic Conference champions have now lost three of their last four games to fall to 13-10 overall and 6-4 in conference.

“Losing is hard,” sophomore point guard Armon Johnson said, summing up the evening. “It makes us all mad.”

The Wolf Pack was equally upset after dropping a 78-75 decision to Louisiana Tech on Thursday night at Lawlor Events Center to kickoff this lost two-game homestand. Anger, though, didn’t solve the Wolf Pack’s continuing problems, especially on defense with the game on the line.

“We were better defensively in the first half,” Pack coach Mark Fox said. “We got a lot of offense from our defense. But in the second half they (the Aggies) shot 50 percent (12-of-24). That’s just not good enough.”

The Wolf Pack has now lost two WAC games in a row for the first time since January 2006. The losses to Louisiana Tech and New Mexico State also are the first time the Pack has lost two WAC games in a row at home since January 2002.

“It’s disappointing,” Fox said. “It’s been a very disappointing week for our team.”

If nothing else, the Wolf Pack breathed life into two struggling WAC teams this week. Louisiana Tech’s victory on Thursday was just its third WAC win of the year in 10 games. New Mexico State climbed back to .500 with the victory overall at 12-12 and a game over breakeven in the WAC at 6-5.

“I’ll tell you what, I can feel the energy,” New Mexico State coach Marvin Menzies said. “There’s no doubt that there’s a sense of energy here. All the guys played well. They really stuck together.”

The Wolf Pack wasted a double-digit lead for the second game in a row. The Pack, which led Louisiana Tech by as much as 13 on Thursday, led New Mexico State 26-16 after a Lyndale Burleson steal and lay up with 7:42 to play in the first half.

“We started off well,” said freshman Luke Babbitt, who scored 14 points. “But we just couldn’t sustain it again. We just have to protect our home court.”

The Aggies found their energy in the final seven minutes of the first half, outscoring the Pack, 17-6, to take a 33-32 halftime lead. Hernst Laroche drove the baseline for a short jumper and had a steal and a lay up to jumpstart an 11-0 Aggies run. Jahmar Young, who finished with a game-high 17 points, also had a 3-pointer during the run as New Mexico State took a 27-26 lead with 3:25 to play in the first half.

The Pack turned the ball over 11 times in the first half after committing just six

turnovers on Thursday for the entire game.

“We’ve seen pressure like that before,” said Johnson, who finished with a team-high 16 points. “But we didn’t do a good job.”

New Mexico State’s defense created 16 Pack turnovers for the game. It was the most Wolf Pack turnovers since they also committed 16 in a 95-39 win over Sonoma State in the eighth game of the year on Dec. 9.

“I think we created a lot of those turnovers ourself,” said Fox, refusing to give New Mexico State’s defense much credit for the Pack’s offensive struggles. “We just had some turnovers that were very, very costly.”

The Wolf Pack, though, took a 44-39 lead after a lay up by Joey Shaw with 16:10 to play in the second half. Johnson , who took just three shots and scored just five points in the first half, was the driving force behind the lead. The Hug High graduate connected on three 3-pointers in the first nine minutes of the second half to help the Pack to a 47-43 lead.

Johnson, though, would go on to score just two points — a lay up with 1:27 to play for a 60-59 Pack lead — over the game’s final 11 minutes. The sophomore led the Pack with 27 points against Louisiana Tech and appeared on his way to another 20-plus point effort on Saturday after his flurry early in the second half.

“You can’t be the same (on offense) every night,” Fox said. “You are not going to play the same type of defense every night. You have to become a complete team offensively. Our great teams were that way. This team isn’t there yet.”

It was Johnson, though, who had the ball in his hands in the final seconds with the Pack trailing 62-60. The Aggies took the two-point lead on a 3-pointer by Wendell McKines with a minute to play.

“We had looks for Armon and Luke,” said Fox, explaining the Pack’s final possession. “If that was taken away, Armon was going to take it inside. We were hoping to at least get to the line.”

Johnson drove the lane and put up a short shot in traffic that bounced off the rim.

“They all collapsed in the lane,” said Johnson of the Aggies defense. “I just missed it. It’s unfortunate.”

Johnson, though, got his own rebound with six seconds to play and fired a pass outside to Babbitt.

“I got a look,” said Babbitt of his possible game-winning 3-pointer. “It just didn’t go down.”

The Wolf Pack will head back on the road next week at San Jose State on Thursday and Hawaii on Saturday before returning to Lawlor for a BracketBusters game against Virginia Commonwealth on Feb. 20.

“We just have a very young team,” Fox said, explaining the struggles of late. “This is just part of the process. And it can’t be rushed. We can’t stuff steroids into our team to make them better. We just have to deal with this and get better from it. Experiences like these will help us down the road.”