Nevada barely knows way against San Jose
Appeal Sports Writer
RENO – It was a win to be sure, but certainly more should have been expected from 10th-ranked Nevada Wednesday night.
Nevada (23-2, 11-1) let a 12-point second-half lead dwindle down to a single basket before subduing stubborn San Jose State, 68-60, before a crowd of 9,540 at Lawlor Events Center.
The win gives Nevada a two-game lead over New Mexico State (9-3) with four conference games remaining. The two front-runners close out the regular season with a game on March 3 in Reno.
“It’s a reflection of my coaching,” Nevada coach Mark Fox said. “I didn’t do a very good job of coaching. No disrespect to San Jose State. They played hard, but I didn’t coach very well. We didn’t get consecutive stops, we didn’t rebound well.”
Fox, however, didn’t believe it was an uninspired effort.
“I don’t think this had anything to do with our effort,” he said. “We made some technical mistakes; bonehead plays. We gave up baseline drives at least 600 times. We didn’t play as well as we are capable of playing.”
For the Spartans, it was a microcosm of their season. Of their 13 conference games, six have been decided by eight points or less. Simply put, the young Spartans have had trouble getting over the proverbial hump.
“We had an opportunity to win, but we didn’t get it done,” San Jose State’s second-year coach George Nessman said. “They are No. 10 for a reason. They play winning basketball.
“We were unable to get to the free-throw line and it really hurt us. You can’t win with two free-throw attempts. We found ourselves fighting uphill, and this isn’t an easy place to fight uphill.”
Nessman had a point. It wasn’t like the Spartans didn’t get to the rim. Either the ball wouldn’t drop of they couldn’t get a call. Nevada was 13 for 17 from the line, and the Spartans missed their only two attempts, both numbers being school records. The key to the game was the first 6 minutes 18 seconds of the second half when Nevada outscored SJSU 22-8 and opened up a 12-point lead, 51-39, its biggest of the game. The Spartans led 31-29 at the half.
It was All-American forward Nick Fazekas (20 points, 10 rebounds), point guard Ramon Sessions (11 points) and off guard Kyle Shiloh (16 points) doing most of the damage offensively.
Marcelus Kemp (10 points) regained the lead for Nevada, 32-31, with a 3-pointer from the left corner. Nevada scored six straight points in an 89-second span, as Sessions scored on a putback and lay-up, and Fazekas tallied on a putback for a 38-31 lead.
Menelik Barbary (10 points) stopped the bleeding with a jump shot in the key, but Shiloh drilled a 3-pointer for a 41-33 lead. Barbary scored again to get the deficit down to six, 41-35. Nevada scored seven of the next nine points – two buckets by Fazekas and another 3-pointer by Shiloh – for a 48-37 lead.
“In the second half, they dissected the zone and got open looks,” Nessman said. “They are a great team and won’t miss those.”
At home, it should have been enough, but the Pack didn’t show any killer instinct.
The Spartans, behind the play of Tim Pierce who scored 20 points and grabbed seven rebounds, Carlton Spencer (10 points) and Lance Holloway kept chipping away at the double-digit lead, finally pulling to 58-56 on a Pierce 3-pointer with 6:29 remaining.
“I couldn’t tell you what happened,” Fazekas said when asked about the Spartans’ comeback. “We got lackadaisical. We took the game for granted and they started to come back on us.”
Fazekas made it 60-56 with 5:57 left, and Spencer, who was hindered by foul problems the entire game, charged into Kemp and picked up his fifth foul. Shiloh got the lead back to six, 62-56, but a transition lay-up by Pierce and a nice reverse lay-up by Julian Richardson made it 64-60 with 1:04 remaining.
San Jose State slapped on a press, and Kemp threw the ball over Fazekas’ head and out of bounds. The Spartans gave the ball right back when Richardson charged into Fazekas with 52.7 remaining. Kemp made it a two-possession game with a nice drive to the basket, and Shiloh drained two free throws with 12 seconds left.
“We did a decent job (down the stretch),” Fazekas. “We won so that is what matters. We got win number 23 of the season.”
It certainly didn’t come as easy as many expected. Despite shooting 53 percent from the field in the first half, the Spartans led 31-29 at the half thanks mainly to the efforts of Pierce, who led all scorers with 11 first-half points.
The game was tied four times in the first half, and it was Pierce’s third 3-pointer of the half that shoved San Jose State into the lead. Nevada went cold, failing to score in the last three-plus minutes.
Even more impressive for San Jose State was the fact it played well even without Spencer, who was limited to just seven minutes because of foul problems.
“That was our most coherent half (of the year),” Nessman said. “We were really clear and coherent with what we were trying to do. It’s February, and we should be able to do it.”
Conversely, it was another slow start at home for the Wolf Pack, who have suffered through several slow starts this season, only to turn it up a notch in the final 20 minutes.
“We played well the first 3, 4 or 5 minutes whatever it was (of the second half), but the game is 40 minutes,” Fox said.
And no doubt Fox will hammer that into his troops as they prepare for Saturday afternoon’s BracketBuster game against Northern Iowa.