Nevada routs Air Force | NevadaAppeal.com

Nevada routs Air Force

Joe Santoro
For the Appeal
Nevada's Tyron Criswell jumps to the hoop against Air Force's Frank Toohey.
Thomas Ranson | LVN

RENO — The Nevada Wolf Pack couldn’t wait to take the court Wednesday night against the Air Force Falcons.

“Our guys walked into Lawlor Events Center tonight thinking that they were going to win and expecting to win,” Wolf Pack coach Eric Musselman said.

The Wolf Pack did just that, cruising to an easy 72-52 victory over the Falcons in front of a crowd of 5,624. The Wolf Pack improved to 14-9 overall and 6-5 in the Mountain West while Air Force fell to 12-13, 3-9.

“We were really angry after what happened at Colorado State,” junior guard D.J. Fenner said, referring to a 76-67 loss last Saturday. “As a group we just wanted to go out and take all our anger out on (Air Force).”

The Wolf Pack jumped out to a 12-2 lead five minutes into the game and never let the Falcons get closer than six (12-6) the rest of the way. The Pack led by 10 points or more over the final 25:42. Air Force never got closer than 13 (43-30) in the second half.

“We got out to that early lead and after that we just never let them get back in the game,” senior guard Marqueze Coleman said.

“We were real hungry,” said sophomore forward Elijah Foster, who scored a career-high 11 points. “We came out with an edge.”

Fenner led the Wolf Pack with 18 points off the bench. The only other Pack player other than Foster who finished in double digits in scoring was Eric Cooper, who also had 11 off the bench.

“You could tell Air Force wanted to control tempo,” Musselman said. “They stayed back in a zone all night. I didn’t think we could score 72 but we found a way.”

The Wolf Pack shot 52 percent (25-of-48) from the floor despite missing 12-of-17 3-pointers. It was just the fourth game this season the Wolf Pack converted at least half of its shots.

“The key tonight was not settling for jump shots,” said Coleman who scored seven points on 3-of-10 shooting. “We took the ball to the middle and we have guys who can finish.”

Foster did most of the finishing inside, making 4-of-5 shots. Nine of his 11 points came in the second half.

“I kind of came out with a chip on my shoulder,” said Foster, who didn’t play at Colorado State. “I didn’t want to settle for open jumpers because I knew they didn’t have any shot blockers. So I just took it inside.”

The Wolf Pack led 36-23 at halftime with balanced scoring. Tyron Criswell, Lindsay Drew and Cameron Oliver led the Pack at the half with seven points each. Drew then didn’t score in the second half while Oliver and Criswell only had two points each after the break.

“We did a phenomenal job of sharing the basketball,” Musselman said.

The seven Pack players who played at least 10 minutes all scored between seven and 18 points. The only real negative on offense for the Pack was 16 turnovers. “When teams zone us like Air Force did it’s not going to be a fun game to watch,” Coleman said. “When that happens we just have to go out and grind it out.”

“We actually shoot the ball better against teams that zone us than against teams that play man,” Musselman said.

The Wolf Pack’s biggest lead was 72-49 after a 3-pointer by Cooper with 1:35 to play. It was Cooper’s only successful 3-pointer of the night in five tries.

Musselman, though, was most pleased with his team’s defense. The Pack held Air Force to just 33 percent shooting from the floor. The Falcons were also just 3-of-18 on 3-pointers and 9-of-15 on free throws.

“From a defensive standpoint I don’t know if we can play any better over an extended period of time,” Musselman said. “When we watch film of this game, defensively there’s not much we can correct.”

“Defense has been our focal point all year,” Coleman said.

Musselman gushed about the Pack’s defense against the Falcons, a team who came to Lawlor averaging just 61.5 points a game in 11 Mountain West contests this year. Air Force was also shooting just 39 percent from the floor in league games.

“There just has been a lot of progress defensively,” Musselman said. “The effort defensively from where we started to now has been kind of indescribable.”

The 20-point victory is the Pack’s biggest since it won 86-63 at Air Force on Jan. 9. The Wolf Pack is now 6-2 against Air Force in the all-time series and 4-0 against the Falcons at Lawlor Events Center.

“We wanted to make sure that whatever happened at Air Force didn’t become part of tonight,” Musselman said.

“I was proud of our guys’ maturity in this game. They came out and played with great seriousness.”

The Wolf Pack, now 8-2 at home this season, also got the bad taste of the loss at Colorado State out of their mouths.

“We ran out of gas at Colorado State,” Musselman said. “That was one game where our gas tanks were on empty. But I thought we regrouped nicely tonight.”

The Wolf Pack will host Fresno State on Saturday at Lawlor Events Center starting at 4 p.m. The Pack lost at Fresno State, 85-63, on Jan. 6.

“We have to take how we play defensively tonight into the game against Fresno State,” Coleman said.