Nevada goes for the title
For the Nevada Appeal
RENO — Eric Musselman expects nothing less than a Lawlor Events Center bursting at the seams on Friday night.
“I would be shocked if we didn’t get a sellout,” said Musselman of the College Basketball Invitational championship game today (6 p.m., ESPNU) between his Nevada Wolf Pack and Morehead State Eagles. “It’s what I think the level of play deserves.”
The biggest crowd the Wolf Pack has attracted to any of its four CBI home games this year was the 7,431 who showed up Wednesday night to see the Pack beat the Eagles 77-68 and even the best-of-three series at a game apiece.
“It’s the last time you’ll be able to watch basketball for six or seven months,” said Musselman of the season-ending game on Friday. “I would hope that everyone understands the effort and hard work it took for this team to come as far as it has from when we started last spring.”
Musselman’s Wolf Pack can win its first national postseason tournament without winning a game away from Lawlor Events Center. The only time the Pack was forced to play on the road in this year’s CBI, it resulted in an 86-83 loss at Morehead State on Monday to open the championship series. The last CBI champion to earn all five of its victories at home was Oregon in 2011. The only other time it happened was Tulsa in the first CBI tournament in 2008.
“Playing at home in front of our crowd certainly gives us a lift,” Musselman said.
Musselman, who has made it a ritual to pump up the Lawlor crowd during games lately, can’t imagine why any Wolf Pack fan would want to miss what could be the only chance to ever see the team win a postseason tournament on its own home floor.
“There are no more days to play (after Friday),” Musselman said. “I am so proud of this team for putting itself in position to play a Game 3 in this series at home. This is going to be a neat thing for the entire community.”
The Wolf Pack had four players score in double figures to beat the Eagles on Wednesday. D.J. Fenner scored 26, followed by Cam Oliver (14), Tyron Criswell (12) and Marqueze Coleman (10). The Pack also continued its rejuvenated shooting, hitting on 50 percent (22-of-44) of its shots. The Wolf Pack has shot 50 percent or better in each of its last four CBI games after reaching that level of accuracy just four times in the first 33 games.
The Pack is shooting .498 in its five CBI games after shooting just .415 heading into the tournament. The remarkable shooting improvement has also shown up in its 3-point accuracy.
Heading into the CBI the Pack was making just .287 of its 3-point shots. In the five CBI games the Pack has been shooting at a scorching .455 accuracy rate from beyond the arc. That 3-poot shooting improvement was never more important than on Wednesday night when the Pack made 6-of-10 threes while Morehead was just 1-of-16 from long distance. The Wolf Pack expects an all-out wrestling match with the Eagles on Friday. The game on Wednesday featured 49 personal fouls and four technical fouls. There was a lot of pushing a shoving going on with the intensity even reaching Musselman and Morehead State coach Sean Woods. Woods walked past Musselman after the game without shaking his hand.
“I always make sure to take the high road in those situations,” Musselman said, obviously choosing his words carefully after the game. “They (Morehead State) are here for a good reason. They are very well coached. Sean does a great job.”
“We didn’t hit enough shots,” Woods said after the game. “But the bottom line is they got one from us. Now we just need to come back Friday and get one back.”
The physical nature of Wednesday’s game was not lost on Woods.
“We know exactly what we are getting into with this environment (at Lawlor) now.” he said. “We know how the game is going to be played. We just need to adjust and be ready to go.”
It was apparent Morehead wanted to come to Lawlor and push the Pack around, just like it did at Morehead two days earlier.
“At Morehead they hit us in the mouth and we didn’t respond,” Fenner said. “We weren’t going to let that happen again.”
The Pack didn’t back down from the Eagles but Nevada did turn the ball over an alarming total of 21 times, the most all season. “They (Morehead) are very physical,” Musselman said.
“We got kind of punked at Morehead,” Drew said. “We knew we had to stand up and fight back.”
The game today will be the Wolf Pack’s school-record 38th of the year. A win will give the Pack 24 victories this year, the sixth most in school history. The game will also mark the first time in program history the Wolf Pack has played a game in the month of April.
“This is unbelievable exposure for our program and for our league,” Musselman said. “It is going to be very exciting.”
“I can’t wait for Friday,” Fenner said. “We want this more than words can explain. “
“We’re tired. It’s been a long season. But when you know there’s just one more game and then you can rest, why not give it your all on Friday? And we’re not satisfied. We want to win a championship for us to be satisfied.”
The Wolf Pack feels comfortable playing for a championship at Lawlor Events Center where Nevada has won 15 of 18 games this year.
“It’s just another home game for us, not for them,” Oliver said. “The pressure’s on them.”