Magic continues for Nevada men
By DARRELL MOODY
Nevada Appeal News Service
RENO – And the magic continues.
Lawlor Events Center is rapidly becoming a pit where the University of Nevada becomes energized, and good teams never quite play to their potential.
The Wolf Pack pierced the Fresno State zone defense for 12 three-point field goals in 22 attempts and turned in another solid defensive effort en route to an 84-65 Western Athletic Conference basketball win Saturday night before a crowd of 10,238, the ninth-largest crowd in school history.
The win was Nevada’s 10th straight at home, the best start at home since the 1977-78 season. The 1965-66 squad won 11 straight at the old Virginia Street Gym.
“Our fans are great,” said guard Todd Okeson, who finished with his first double-double of his career by scoring 12 points and dishing out 10 assists. “We take our energy from the crowd and put it on the court.
“We’ve got to win at home. We can’t overlook anybody at home. We need to get all the wins we can at home.”
And, the Wolf Pack have been impressive at home, winning the 10 games by an average of 16.2 per contest, including the 14-point win over Kansas last month. In the six road losses, Nevada has been outscored by nearly 10 points a game. The Wolf Pack are 2-6 away frfom Lawlor.
The win also avenged last year’s 107-99 double-overtime loss to the Bulldogs, and Nevada’s Kirk Snyder remembered it vividly. Does it take away the sting of that loss?
“Oh yeah,” said Snyder, who scored 28 points and pulled down seven rebounds. “The last time we lost they were jumping on the scorer’s table. I didn’t see a need for that. It was rubbing it in.”
Snyder was right in the middle of two of Nevada’s three big second-half runs.
When Fresno cut Nevada’s lead to 40-34 a half-minute into the second half, Snyder and Okeson went to work.
Snyder scored on a tough lean-in jump shot in a crowd, and after a Fresno State turnover, he hit one of two free throws to make it 43-34. After two free throws by Mustafa Al-Sayyad, Okeson drove the lane and hit a floating one-hander. On Nevada’s next possession, Okeson hit a free throw, Garry Hill-Thomas followed with a layup on a feed from Okeson, and Snyder knocked down two of his 12 free throws for a 50-36 lead.
Fresno State, thanks to a 10-2 run keyed by Terry Pettis’ two baskets, plus a basket and two free throws by Shantay Legans (21 points), closed the gap to 52-46 with 11:19 left.
That’s when Marcelus Kemp made the two biggest shots of his Nevada career.
The redshirt freshman knocked down back-to-back three-pointers to get the lead back to 12 at 58-46.
“Marcelus hasn’t seen a shot he doesn’t like,” joked Nevada coach Trent Johnson. “He’s not tentative (about shooting). What he did tonight was that he guarded.”
The three-point shooting was a trend in the second half. Before the game ended, Nevada would knock down five more trifectas.
Three of those came in Nevada’s last big run, a 16-8 surge, which enabled the Wolf Pack to stretch their lead to 76-59 with 5:24 remaining. And, Snyder was right in the middle of this barrage, too.
He started with a three-point play on a lean-in field goal and free throw. After Jonathan Woods scored to make it a 63-53 game, Snyder hit two free throws and knocked down a three-pointer to make it 68-53. After Legans scored on a floater, Okeson hit a three ball from the right corner, stretching the lead to 15 points. After a Bulldog free throw, Okeson drained another three to make it 74-56.
It seemed as if the Wolf Pack players had all the room they needed on their three-point efforts, and the Bulldogs’ effort had coach Ray Lopes steamed after the game.
“Our defense was horrible,” Fresno State coach Ray Lopes said. “If you don’t defend, you don’t deserve to win. Our defense was atrocious.
“Snyder is very tough. He’s the best player in the league.”
One has to question Lopes’ strategy of playing zone against a team that can hit from the outside like Nevada.
“My eyes kind of light up (when I see that),” Snyder said. “If I get room to get it off, I’m going to shoot it. I was expecting them to play me harder.”
“We had a whole week to prepare,” Okeson said. “We had different plays for their different sets. We were finding the open spots.”
The success also had to do with ball movement. The Wolf Pack had 19 assists compared to just eight turnovers which pleased Johnson.
“We moved the ball very well,” he said. “The last two games our assist to turnover ratio has been very good.”
Almost forgotten in the 19-point win was the work the Wolf Pack did on Pettis, who came into the game averaging 15 points and finished with seven. He managed to get off only nine shots, as Snyder and Hill-Thomas did the bulk of the work on the Bulldogs’ top scorer.
“I thought Garry made him work for everything he got,” Johnson said. “Overall, I thought our team defense was good.”
And, as Johnson will always tell you, defense wins games.
NOTES: Freshman Nick Fazekas had a solid game, scoring 16 points and grabbing eight rebounds in his 32-minute stint…Kevinn Pinkney added 11 points and seven rebounds … Nevada scored 17 points off Fresno’s 12 turnovers …Hawaii and Rice are tied for first at 7-2 and Nevada, Fresno State and UTEP are all 6-3… The pairings for the Bracket Buster on Feb. 21 will be announced on Monday, and Nevada will be at home.