Nevada stays unbeaten at home | NevadaAppeal.com

Nevada stays unbeaten at home

Joe Santoro
For the Nevada Appeal

RENO — The Nevada Wolf Pack is serious about protecting its home floor this season.

“We want to make this place real hard for opponents to come in here and win,” Wolf Pack coach Eric Musselman said after a 71-68 win over the Wyoming Cowboys at Lawlor Events Center on Saturday. “That is important for what we’re trying to do here.”

The Wolf Pack, now 9-5 overall and 1-1 in the Mountain West, is a perfect 6-0 at home this season. The Wolf Pack went 7-8 at home last year and finished with a 9-22 record.

“It’s a mindset,” Pack guard Marqueze Coleman said. “But I would say the crowd helps as well. That crowd today was as loud as I’ve heard it in here in a while.”

The crowd of 6,317 saw the Wolf Pack overcome a 37-34 halftime deficit to snap a brief two-game losing streak.

“This is our home,” forward Elijah Foster said. “Our job is to go out there and please our fans. We don’t ever want to lose here.”

The Wolf Pack held a lead over the final 19 minutes of the game. But it took three free throws by Coleman in the final 15 seconds to nail down the Pack’s first conference win of the year. Coleman also connected on the most important shot of the game, a 3-pointer from the left elbow that gave the Pack a 68-64 lead with 22 seconds to go.

“He’s been so clutch for us all year,” Musselman said. “There’s no secret when the game’s on the line that the ball is going to be in his hands in some shape or form. We just feel he’s going to make the right decision.”

Coleman finished with a team-high 23 points to go along with four assists, five rebounds and a steal.

“There was no way that I wasn’t taking that shot,” said Coleman of his 3-pointer after Wyoming had sliced the Pack lead to just 65-64 with 43 seconds left. “I’m comfortable in that situation as a senior and as a leader of this team.”

It was a freshman — 6-foot-8 forward Cameron Oliver — who set the tone in the second half for the Wolf Pack. Oliver wiped out Wyoming’s three-point halftime lead all by himself in a 37-second flurry in the first minute of the second half. He blocked a lay-up attempt by Wyoming’s Jonathan Barnes with 19:38 to play, went down to the other end and hit a 12-foot jumper to cut Wyoming’s lead to 37-36 with 19:22 to go, stole the ball from Wyoming’s Alan Herndon with 19:03 left and then nearly ripped the rim down with a dunk for a 38-37 Pack lead with 19:01 to go.

The Pack never trailed the rest of the game.

“I just want to keep playing my game and playing my role,” said Oliver, who finished with 15 points, eight rebounds, two blocks and a steal in 30 minutes. “I think we came out today and played with a chip on our shoulders after losing those last two games.”

Wyoming didn’t score for the first six minutes of the second half as the Pack scored the first 10 points after the break to take a 44-37 lead.

“Our defense coming out in the second half was as good as we’ve played on defense all year for about 10 straight possessions,” Musselman said.

The Wolf Pack, though, could never really shake off the Cowboys until the final minute. Wyoming’s Josh Adams, who came into the game with a Mountain West-best 26.1 scoring average, finished with a game-high 26 points. The 6-foot-2 guard was 8-of-19 from the floor, 3-of-7 on threes and was 7-of-11 from the line. It was the first time this year since he went 4-of-9 in the season opener that he missed as many as four free throws in a game. Over his last six games coming into Saturday Adams was 49-of-56 from the line.

Adams scored 15 points in the second half but it took him eight minutes to heat up. His first bucket of the second half was a 3-pointer with 12 minutes to go that cut the Pack lead to 47-42. He made 3-of-4 free throws over a stretch of 32 seconds to cut the Pack lead to 49-45 with 11 minutes to go. His layup pulled Wyoming to within 56-50 with seven minutes left and his 3-pointer cut the Pack lead to 60-55 with just under five minutes left.

Musselman was satisfied with the Pack’s defense on Adams.

“Lindsey Drew played great defense on one of the best scorers in the Mountain West,” Musselman said. “If you would have told me going into the game that he (Adams) would only make eight field goals, I probably would have taken it.”

Herndon finished with 13 points for the Cowboys and Justin James had a dozen. The other seven Wyoming players who stepped on the floor combined for only 17 points.

“Josh (Adams) has to score for them to have a chance to win,” Coleman said. “We knew that. We just wanted to make sure that the guys around him didn’t beat us.”

Coleman and Oliver combined for more than half the Pack points but Tyron Criswell contributed nine points, Foster had eight, Drew had seven and D.J. Fenner had six. Criswell hit a pair of crucial free throws for a 65-61 lead with just under three minutes to play, Fenner had a big 3-pointer for a 54-48 lead with 8:31 left and Foster had a pair of baskets in the first five minutes of the second half while Wyoming’s offense stalled.

“In the first half Wyoming controlled the tempo,” Musselman said. “That wasn’t our tempo at all. In the second half we played to our tempo.”

The Wolf Pack outscored Wyoming 37-31 in the second half.

“In the second half we speeded it up to play Nevada basketball,” Foster said. “And you saw the result.”

The Pack, which was called for 68 fouls in two road losses at Wichita State and New Mexico in the last two weeks, also had to battle through foul concerns against Wyoming. The Pack was called for 26 fouls and two players (Drew, Fenner) did eventually foul out. Three Pack players fouled out in each of the losses at Wichita State and New Mexico.

“It’s not just a Nevada problem,” Musselman said. “I’ve watched a lot of basketball on TV lately and there is something going on across the board. There is just no flow in any of these games with all the fouls being called. It’s not just Nevada.”

Musselman was happy to see his team respond to the two road loses with a strong effort at home.

“The sky’s not falling,” Musselman said. “Those (Wichita State, New Mexico) are two of the hardest places to win in the entire country. But there’s no question the two losses hurt the team. And I was concerned, especially coming off a year like last year. You are always concerned about confidence. But (against Wyoming) there was never any panic. The guys just had a quiet confidence the whole game.”

It took the Wolf Pack just 14 games to equal last season’s win total.

“It shows how far we’ve come,” Coleman said. “It shows how hard we’ve worked. It’s great to see. But when you put in the hard work it’s going to show.”

The Wolf Pack will play at Fresno State on Wednesday and at Air Force next Saturday before returning to Lawlor Events Center on Jan. 13 to host Boise State.