Caroline, Pack outlast Rhode Island
RENO – Rhode Island was every bit as good as advertised. Nevada was just a little bit better.
Despite being outshot by seven field goals, Nevada used a 36-10 advantage at the foul line to carve out an 88-81 win over the Atlantic 10 favorite Rams before a crowd of 7,737 Monday night at Lawlor Events Center.
The win gives Nevada a 2-0 record heading into its first road trip of the season, Wednesday at Santa Clara and Saturday at Pacific.
“Rhode Island is very physical,” Nevada coach Eric Musselman said after the victory. “We tried to get our guys in position to draw fouls. I thought we did a really good job of attacking the rim and not settling for perimeter shots.
“We shot the ball pretty well from the free throw line (36-44). We had a lot of guys make big free throws.”
That would be three guys – Jordan Caroline (14-for-17), Cody Martin (7-for-10) and Caleb Martin (12-for-13).
Caroline was just a 59 percent free thrower last year, and he’s already 17-for-22 in the first two games of the season.
“Since Jordan has been here, we’ve never addressed free throws,” Musselman said. “He has a great release. I think it was just a matter of confidence.”
Caroline was like a man possessed. He showed the determination and energy that made him a crowd favorite, and every time he scored, the student section belted out a few lines of “Sweet Caroline.”
The 6-foot-7 junior made them sing plenty of times on Monday, and Rhode Island was helpless to keep him away from the rim. He played just as well Monday as he did last March when he was MVP of the Mountain West Conference Championships. The 28-point effort was his second-best in his brief Nevada career, and it was his 15th career double-double.
“It was easier to go inside than settle for the outside shot,” Caroline said.
“He plays with so much energy, he gets everybody else going,” said Caleb Martin, who had 24 points in 31 minutes off the bench. “You see somebody going that hard …”
It did rub off in a positive way. Caleb and Cody Martin came on strong in the second half. When the smoke cleared, Nevada had led the game for nearly 38 minutes.
“We had the lead for (more than) 36 minutes,” Musselman said. “That was impressive.”
Caroline was the main reason why Nevada was able to carve out a 10-point lead at the half, 38-28, as he had 10 points and six rebounds. The Pack shot 54.,5 percent from the floor, and it was able to turn 10 RI turnovers into nine points.
It was two scoring surges in the first half that gave Nevada its double-digit lead. Nevada also held Rhode Island to a 37 percent mark from the field.
Trailing 17-15, the Pack went on a 13-3 run to grab a 28-20 lead with 6:27 remaining.
A Caleb Martin fadeaway from the baseline tied the game at 17, and then Caroline, put Nevada ahead by a basket with a rim-rattling slam dunk. After a Rhode Island miss, Caleb Martin drained two free tosses to make it 21-17. Cody Martin made it an 8-0 run with two free throws extending the lead to 23-17 with 8:52 left.
After a 3-pointer by Jared Terrell ended the Rams’ drought, Cody Martin blocked a lay-up by Jeff Dowtin, and Hallice Cooke buried the first of two 3-pointers for a 26-20 lead. After the Rams misfired, Caleb Martin drained two free throws to complete the first scoring surge.
Rhode Island closed to 28-24, but Nevada ended the half on a 10-4 run led by Caroline’s three-point play and another 3-pointer by Cooke.
“We just executed the game plan,” Caroline said.
“We challenge ourselves,” Cody Martin said of the Pack’s defensive effort. “The big thing is that we take pride in our defense. The coaches are always preaching defense; getting deflections.”
Rhode Island, behind the scoring of Jared Terrell and E.C. Matthews, slowly chipped away at the double-digit lead, finally tying the game at 62 with 9:05 left in the game on Matthews’ three-point play. The game was also tied at 64 and 66 all, respectively.
For the next six minutes, the teams were never separated by more than four points.
Nevada used an 8-2 run to grab a 74-68 lead with 3:22 left, and it was Caroline who led the way.
Josh Hall scored and then Caroline tallied on a putback. After Terrell scored to make it 70-68, Caroline drained two free throws, and Hall added one free toss to make it 73-68. Caroline made it 74-68 with a free throw.
Rhode Island never got closer than three the rest of the way, though the Rams made the Pack and the Lawlor Faithful squirm in their seats.
Threes by Terrell and Matthews made it 77-74 with 2:38 left.
That set the stage for Caleb Martin’s second and final 3-pointer of the game. With the shot clock furiously winding down, Martin threw one up toward the rim that somehow went in to make it 80-76 with 2:04 left. Caroline would add two free throws and then Caleb Martin put the finishing touches on the win with a fast-break dunk.
“I knew I had to get it up,” he said. “I was just trying to get it to the rim to re-set the shot clock. I thought I was going to bank it in.”