No. 6 Nevada Wolf Pack rolls past Little Rock
By JOE SANTORO For the Nevada Appeal
RENO — The Little Rock Trojans put up little resistance to the No. 6 Nevada Wolf Pack Friday night at Lawlor Events Center.
A crowd of 10,273 saw the Wolf Pack roll to its third consecutive victory to open the season, 87-59, over the Sun Belt Conference’s Trojans.
“We fights as hard as anybody in the country,” Wolf Pack junior guard Jazz Johnson said. “We prepare as well as anybody in the country. Our camaraderie is getting better and better and it will continue to grow as we learn how to play with each other.”
The 3-0 Wolf Pack, which has now won 35 of its last 37 home games, never trailed Little Rock and led by 10 or more over the final 28 minutes. The Pack has been dominant so far this season, leading its three opponents for 104 out of 120 minutes.
“That’s a good sign,” said Wolf Pack point guard Cody Martin, who had 10 assists and 14 points against Little Rock. “We play hard and when you do that everything else takes care of itself.”
Jordan Caroline also had a double-double for the Pack with 17 points and 12 rebounds. Freshman Jordan Brown also joined the double-double party with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many double doubles on one team in one game,” Wolf Pack coach Eric Musselman said.
Caleb Martin had 19 points and Johnson had 17 as five Pack players scored in double figures for the second game in a row.
“I was proud of the way we shared the ball,” Musselman said. “And we had great bench play. Jazz (Johnson) continues to open up the game for us with his 3-point shooting.”
Johnson, who also had four assists, drained three 3-pointers for the third consecutive game off the bench in 29 minutes.
“Three-point shooting and energy,” Johnson said. “That’s what I have to bring to this team. Coach Muss stresses the ability to make shots and that’s my job, basically, to make shots.”
Cody Martin, who also had 11 assists in the season opener against BYU and 10 against Pacific last Friday, now has 31 assists in three games.
“With the way these guys can shoot the ball, it’s easy for me,” Martin said. “I just get them the ball. They do the rest.”
The Wolf Pack enjoyed its best shooting game of the young season against Little Rock, making 54 per cent from the floor (30-of-56).
“Every single game, every single practice, I learn more and more about this team,” Cody Martin said.
The 28-point victory is the Wolf Pack’s largest of the season after beating BYU by 16 (86-70) and Pacific by 22 (83-61).
“We’re getting better,” Cody Martin said. “But we still have a long way to go.”
The Wolf Pack dominated the Trojans for the bulk of the game but it was the officials who controlled the first 4:27, calling a dozen fouls, eight on Little Rock, as both teams combined for just five points (Pack, 3-2).
The Wolf Pack, though, then caught fire, scoring seven points in less than a minute to take a 10-2 lead. Brown had a pair of free throws, Johnson hit a 3-pointer and Caleb Martin had a lay-up for the 7-0 Pack run.
Brown made 5-of-7 shots from the floor and 2-of-4 free throws in his 26 minutes for his first career double-double.
“Coach put me back out there because he wanted me to get my first double double,” Brown said. “I really appreciate that.”
Little Rock, now 1-11 against Top 25 teams since the 2000-01 season, never really threatened the Pack after that mini 7-0 Nevada run.
Brown, who had eight points and seven rebounds in the first half, scored six points in 90 seconds as the Pack took a 16-6 lead with 12:35 to go in the half. The 6-foot-11 center connected on a right-handed hook from the baseline, a jumper from the top of the key and a line-drive right-hander from the right elbow.
Caroline threw down a dunk, Johnson weaved his way through the Trojans defense for a lay-up and Tre’Shawn Thurman sank a pair of free throws as the Pack took a 22-8 lead halfway through the first half.
“I never really considered myself just a 3-point shooter,” Johnson said. “It’s important for me to show teams that I can drive to the basket, too, because I know teams are going to start running me off the 3-point line.”
Little Rock never got closer to the Pack than nine (22-13) over the final 8:35 of the opening half. Rayjon Tucker, who had a team-high 11 points in the first half, hit a 3-pointer to cut the Pack lead to 27-16 with 4:45 to go before the half.
The Wolf Pack, now 46-5 at home under Musselman the last three-plus seasons (24-0 against non-conference teams at home), ended the first half with a flurry. A Cody Martin steal led to a Caroline lay-up and a 35-19 lead with 2:33 to go. Caroline then drained a 3-pointer for a 38-19 lead and Caleb Martin did the same with 27 seconds to go for a 43-22 lead as the Pack took a 43-23 lead at the break.
The 20-point lead is the Pack’s biggest after the opening half of a game this season. It is the Pack’s biggest halftime lead since a 54-28 advantage at UNLV last Feb. 28 in the 31st game of the 2017-18 season.
Little Rock, which averaged 92 points a game in its season-opening victories over Southeastern Oklahoma and Tennessee State last week, missed 23-of-32 shots in the first half as well as 6-of-8 free throws. The Pack also outrebounded the Trojans 25-18 over the first 20 minutes and 43-36 for the game. The Trojans would finish the game at just 35 per cent (22-of-63) from the floor.
Caleb Martin had seven points in the opening half for his first points in the first half of a game this season. Caroline finished the half with a game-high 12 to go along with seven boards.
It didn’t take long for the Wolf Pack to end any comeback hopes Little Rock might have had entering the second half. Cody Martin drained a three in the first minute and Trey Porter followed with a short jumper and Caleb Martin had a lay-up as the Pack led 50-25 with 17:35 to play.
The Wolf Pack, which started last year 8-0, toyed with the Trojans in the second half, seemingly scoring at will. Caleb Martin had a dunk and a 3-pointer just 66 seconds apart for a 60-40 lead with 11 minutes to go. Brown connected on a pair of jumpers about a minute apart for a 67-44 lead with 8:14 to go.
Johnson also completed a 3-point play for a 65-44 lead with 9:25 and Caleb Martin had another 3-pointer for a 70-46 lead with 7:45 left. Johnson also got into the 3-point party once again with 6:53 left for a 73-49 lead. He also connected beyond the arc for an 83-51 lead with 4:13 to go.
The Wolf Pack is the highest ranked team Little Rock has played since it lost to No. 2 Kentucky in January 2012. Friday’s game is also just the second that Little Rock has played against a team from Nevada. The Trojans, which were known as Arkansas-Little Rock at the time, lost to UNLV in the 1990 NCAA tournament 102-72.
The Wolf Pack, which is averaging 10,642 fans a game at Lawlor, will host Cal Baptist on Monday (7 p.m.) in its final home game until Dec. 15 (against South Dakota State). The Pack will play six consecutive games away from Lawlor after Monday, starting with a pair of games Nov. 22, 23 against Tulsa and either Southern Illinois or Massachusetts in Las Vegas as part of the Las Vegas Holiday Invitational.
The Little Rock and Cal Baptist games are also part of the Las Vegas Holiday Invitational.
“We’re going to be gone for almost a month,” Musselman said. “That’s a long time to go without playing a home game. We’re hoping for a big crowd on Monday.”