Caroline, Pack take national spotlight
RENO — Jordan Caroline and the Nevada basketball program are getting some much-deserved national attention after Saturday’s wild 105-104 overtime win at New Mexico.
Caroline scored a career-best 45 points, including a game-winning 3-pointer with 2 seconds left in overtime, capping an improbable 25-point comeback. He also grabbed 13 rebounds. It came on the heels of a 19-point 11-rebound effort in a 72-69 win over San Diego State.
The 45-point effort is the third-most by a Division 1 player this season, and the most ever by an opponent in The Pit. It’s also the most points by a MW player since Feb. 23, 2013 when Kendall Williams of New Mexico scored 46 at Colorado State.
The performances earned him Mountain West Player of the Week honors for the second time this season. He also was honored by a national media organization as its top player.
Ironically, Caroline’s best effort even at the high school level was a summer league game when he scored 37 points. He picked a great time to have a career game, and the Pack needed each and every point.
He’s getting more than just 15 minutes of fame. He has been doing national interviews the past couple of days, and the team is getting kudos from basketball people across the country for the eighth-best comeback in NCAA history.
“My phone has been blowing up,” he told reporters. “Everybody back home. My mom is super happy. She started screaming and it woke up my little brother, who started crying.
“I still can’t believe that we pulled it out. We escaped The Pit with a win, especially being down by 14 with about a minute left (actually 11-point deficit).”
With 28.9 to play, the Lobos clung to a one-point lead, up 103-102. New Mexico made it 104-102 with a free throw before Nevada called timeout with 8.7 seconds to go.
It was time for Caroline to take charge.
“It was a play for Devearl (Ramsey),” Caroline said. “I just got the ball. I told coach Dupree that I’m getting the ball. It felt good (out of my hand). I went in for the offensive rebound just in case.”
Caroline was 17-for-29 from the floor, including 5-for-8 from beyond the arc, and he’s not known as a 3-point shooter.
“I worked on my shot a lot in the off-season,” Caroline said. “Saturday night I was feeling it. I may start to look more for it (the 3-ball).”
Coach Eric Musselman said he could see Caroline’s improvement coming. “We knew he has the ability to play for money,” Musselman said. “He had to work on his (offensive) skill set. He played the 2 and mainly 3 last year in practice, and shot the ball well. Because of our roster (situation), he’s had to play mostly a 4 even though he plays like a 3. He struggled from the perimeter. He is starting to get better and better shooting the ball.”
Senior guard Marcus Marshall, who played against Caroline when both were in the Missouri Valley Conference, loves what Caroline brings to the team.
“He (Caroline) means a lot to this team,” Marshall said. “Just his energy and passion for the game. He just goes 100 percent all the time. I’ve known him for a few years, and he is one player you don’t question is effort. The other night against New Mexico, I think he was the only one playing hard.
“He is in the gym everyday; he’s always in the gym. He’s a gym rat.”
The energy shows mostly on the offensive end. Caroline is one of the best offensive rebounders in the Mountain West.
Game in and game out he shows tremendous desire.
“He does a great job chasing down balls (rebounds),” Musselman said. “He works extremely hard.”
Musselman admitted he wasn’t happy with Caroline’s defense against the Lobos.
“He scored 45, but he gave up probably 30,” Musselman said. “He’s such a good defensive player. When we get into individual film study, we’ll talk about that.”
Freshman Josh Hall has yet to return to practice, which is troubling to Musselman. The Nevada coach expected him back in practice by Wednesday or Thursday, but apparently that isn’t going to happen. Apparently, Hall’s shoulder is still giving him problems.
The team got some key work from ex-Damonte Ranch star John Carlson and guard Charlie Tooley.
Tooley hit his only shot of the day, a step-back 3-pointer that cut the NM lead to 11, and helped fuel the comeback.
Carlson, meanwhile, played a couple of possessions and did a good job against Tim Williams.
“Carlson’s post defense versus Tim Williams were probably the two best post defense possessions we’ve played all year,” Musselman said.