RENO — It was raining 3s all night Wednesday at Lawlor Events Center.
Nevada opened the game by shooting eight straight 3-pointers, and when the smoke cleared, Nevada had made a season-best 13 from beyond the arc en route to a 76-69 victory over UC Irvine before a crowd of 6,911.
The Wolf Pack improved to 9-2, its best start since the 2006-07 season, and finished its home nonconference schedule with a perfect 5-0 record.
Ten of those 3-pointers came in the first half, which was a season best. Nevada had made 11 3-pointers four times this season. The 52 percent mark was the second-best effort this season. The Pack shot 55 percent against Oakland.
“Shooting the 3-ball like we did was probably the difference in the game,” Nevada coach Eric Musselman said. “They had five 3s to our 13. Without the 3s we probably don’t win the game.
“That being said, nine forced turnovers in the second half (was big). They are a scrappy team. They (Irvine) are going to win a lot of games in conference. They rebound the ball well.”
Irvine, led by Tommy Rutherford’s 14 rebounds, had a 48-40 edge on the glass, leading to 11 second-chance points.
Still, that wasn’t enough to derail the Pack, though Irvine made it interesting with a late 8-0 run which cut Nevada’s lead to 73-69 with 38.1 left in the contest.
Nevada built a 42-36 halftime lead thanks to a sizzling 59 percent mark from beyond the arc (10-for-17), a season-best for a half and just one turnover. Cameron Oliver had 15 of his 18 in the opening half and Marcus Marshall had 12 of his 17.
Oliver went 4-for-4 from beyond the arc and Marshall was 4-for-6.
Oliver’s shots were by design. Musselman said Tuesday he though his athletic big men would have success drawing the bigger Irvine players away from the basket because of their ability to hit outside shots
Irvine took a 21-20 lead with 9:09 left on baskets by John Edgar and Essayu Worku, but the Pack stormed back with a 17-3 run to take a 39-25 lead.
Marshall started the surge with a trey and Oliver followed with another 23 seconds later. After an Irvine miss, D.J. Fenner knocked home the Pack’s third straight triple. Irvine misfired again, and Oliver delighted the partisan crowd with a dunk to make it 33-21 with 6:37 left.
Ioannis Dimakopoulous, who went 5-for-5 from the floor, ended the Irvine drought with a tip-in to make it 33-23. A putback by Jordan Caroline and another trey by Marshall upped the lead to 15, and after an Irvine score, Fenner ended the surge with a free throw to make it 39-25.
Marshall said the intent wasn’t to come out and shoot a plethora of 3 balls.
“They did have some big guys in the frontcourt,” Marshall said. “We try to take what the defense gives us.”
“We didn’t figure on coming out and shooting a lot of 3s, but they were falling,” said Lindsey Drew, who scored a season-best 12. “Some of the shots probably weren’t the best, but we did hit some open shots.”
And early on, Irvine gave Nevada plenty of room. Not a good idea.
“I was kind of surprised they gave us easy 3s like that,” Marshall said. “Everybody has a different game plan.”
Despite the onslaught of 3s, Irvine closed the half with a 9-3 run to make it 42-36 thanks to a couple of putbacks by Eyaassu Worku.
Two 3-pointers by Drew helped Nevada extend its lead to 51-40 with 14:49 remaining. Irvine closed to 51-45, and Oliver picked up his third foul and then picked up a technical foul (fourth foul) with 13:13 left.
It didn’t matter. Nevada went on a nice 7-3 run when Oliver left the game, keeping its double-digit lead, 58-48. Marshall, Drew and Leland King II (Oliver’s replacement) all had baskets.
“I thought we played well (without Cam),” Musselman said. “We went on a little run. Leland shot poorly, but he did a good job defensively.”
That being said, Nevada didn’t play as well in the final 20 minutes. The Pack shot just 11-for-28 overall, including 3-for-8 from beyond the arc. Nevada also was just 13-for-25 from the line.
“I think our shot selection was probably as bad as it’s been all year, and so was our decision making,” Musselman said. “We’ll clean that up tomorrow.
“The shots start dropping and you get overconfident and think the next one is going to drop, and then you miss two or three. I’ll hear about it from my wife. I already know what she’s going to say. She isn’t dumb.”
It wasn’t the same team in the final 20 minutes and Musselman knows it. He also knows he has a fatigued group. He has essentially been playing seven players since Elijah Foster left the team after a domestic battery charge.
“It’s both (mental and physical),” Musselman said. “It has nothing to do with minutes played. It’s the amount of games we’ve played. I think we’re one or two ahead of everybody else.”
NOTES: Marshall tied his season high and the team season high with five threes made… Caroline passed the 10-rebound mark (13) for the fifth time this season. He scored 15 points for his fourth double-double … Nevada plays Towson State Wednesday and UC Santa Barbara next Thursday in Las Vegas.