Desire, focus comes into question in Pack’s loss
For the Nevada Appeal
RENO – The difference between the Nevada Wolf Pack and a berth in the Western Athletic Conference championship game might have been as innocent as a little red light in the shape of an arrow.
Nevada’s Brandon Fields and the New Mexico State Aggies’ Jahmar Young got to a rebound at the same exact time with 35 seconds to play Friday night and the Pack clinging to a 79-78 lead.
One basketball, four hands, 5,897 fans holding their breath, a spot in the WAC title game on Saturday at stake. And that innocent red light on the front of the scorer’s table suddenly felt like it had just been shot through each and every Wolf Pack heart.
Unfortunately, as far as the Pack’s WAC and NCAA tournament hopes were concerned, the arrow pointed in the direction of Las Cruces, N.M. The Aggies took advantage of their new-found second life, Young drained a 12-footer with 3.8 seconds to play and the Pack immediately began to dream about the 2011 WAC and NCAA tournaments.
If that little red light was pointed in Nevada’s direction, well, the Wolf Pack would have likely earned its second consecutive spot in the WAC title game. Wolf Pack coach David Carter, though, said the little red light was merely the messenger of the bad news.
The real culprit for the stunning 80-79 loss was hustle, desire and intensity at all the right times by the Aggies.
“I think (the Aggies) just wanted it more than we did down the stretch,” Carter said.
While Carter seemingly was questioning his team’s desire and focus, he was simply blurting out a bit of coachspeak after the toughest loss of his rookie year as head coach.
“They just did more of the little things than we did,” Carter said, explaining his comment about the Pack’s want-to down the stretch. “They played better defense, they hustled after loose balls, Jahmar Young hustled in and tied up that ball to keep that huge possession. Those are the things you need to do to win a game like this and we didn’t do enough of them.”
The Aggies’ certainly did, outscoring the Pack 17-2 on second chance points, thanks to an 11-6 edge in offensive rebounds.
“That’s just all my team’s heart and desire,” New Mexico State head coach Marvin Menzies said.
The Wolf Pack (20-12) now await the decisions of the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) and College Basketball Invitational (CBI) selection committees today. The safe bet is that the Pack is headed to its third consecutive CBI, a tournament that didn’t even exist in the last year of the school’s four-year run in the NCAA tournament in 2007.
“We’ll just have to wait and see what happens,” Carter said.
The NCAA tournament field will be announced on CBS starting at 3 p.m. today. The NIT field will be announced shortly after the NCAA tournament show ends at 4 p.m. The CBI field likely will not be announced until after the NIT field is announced.
The last thing, though, the Wolf Pack wanted to talk about after the loss to New Mexico State was the NIT or CBI. The loss simply left the Pack with a blank look on their faces.
“I’m shocked,” said Luke Babbitt, who scored a career-high 33 points. “I don’t know what to say.”
“Nobody anticipated us losing at home,” said Carter, whose team is 15-2 at Lawlor this year.
You could look at a dozen or so plays at Friday’s game and see where the Pack lost the game. Young grabbing that crucial rebound, the Aggies being awarded possession of the ball and Young hitting the game-winning shot was just the last big, game-changing moment.
There was a five-point turnaround in a span of nine seconds that turned a possible 78-74 Pack lead into a 76-75 Pack deficit with 1:43 to go.
Babbitt missed a 3-pointer with 1:52 to play with the Pack ahead 75-74. Dario Hunt grabbed the offensive rebound off that miss but promptly turned the ball over four seconds later. New Mexico State’s Wendell McKines then had a crucial steal and pass to Jonathan Gibson for a layup five seconds after that for the 76-75 Aggies lead.
“That steal by McKines was huge,” Carter said. “That’s one of those little things that helps you win games like this. We needed a stop like that at a crucial time and we didn’t get it.”
“They might have played a little smarter than we did,” Babbitt said. “They might have hustled more. I don’t know. This is just tough. Everyone feels terrible about this.”
Like Carter and Babbitt said, hardly anyone anticipated the Pack losing on Friday. Utah State coach Stew Morrill even made sure to point out that his team was going to play its fourth WAC title game on the floor of the home team against Nevada on Saturday.
The Aggies didn’t allow that to happen, turning Lawlor into a neutral site for the title game.
“That’s why us coaches pushed so hard for a neutral site tournament,” Morrill said, referring to the WAC tourney’s new home in Las Vegas next March.
The Pack is already looking forward to it.