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Nevada beats Utah State in classic

DARRELL MOODY
Appeal Sports Writer

RENO – The World Series. Stanley Cup Finals. The Super Bowl.

All classics to be sure, but none of them have anything on Saturday night’s Western Athletic Conference championship game in terms of intensity and excitement.

Nevada overcame a three-shot Utah State possession at the end of regulation, and the 21st-ranked Pack outscored the Aggies 11-2 in the final 1:49 of overtime to grab a 70-63 victory and earn a third straight trip to the NCAA Tournament.

Nevada, 27-5 and winners of 14 straight games, second-longest win streak in the nation, will find out its fate today. The annual selection show on CBS starts at 3 p.m.

The game was tied at 55 at the end of regulation. Nevada, thanks to six points by tournament MVP Nick Fazekas and five by all-tourney selection Marcelus Kemp, outscored the Aggies 15-8 in the extra period.

“It was a hard-fought game; well played by both teams,” Nevada coach Mark Fox said. “I’m extremely proud of my players. Expectations were extremely high and that’s a lot of pressure to deal with at a young age.”

“It’s a tough thing to do (winning conference and post-season),” Fazekas said. “We had a target on our back all year.”

Nevada dodged a bullet at the end of regulation when Kemp fell while dribbling and was called for traveling with 45 seconds left. Utah State called timeout with 16.4 left in regulation.

Jaycee Carroll pulled up for a jump shot and missed. Nate Harris got the rebound and missed. Cass Matheus had a tip that was off the mark. You could almost sense a collective “Whew” from Nevada fans as the horn went off.

“He (Carroll) got a good luck,” Utah State coach Stew Morrill said. “Nate got a great rebound and Cass got a tip. We had several opportunities.”

Fox said he didn’t think the Pack dodged a bullet. He said he was confident his team would get a stop and send it into overtime.

The extra five-minute period belonged to Nevada, and especially to Fazekas (23 points, 14 rebounds) and Kemp (13 points).

Fazekas, who played the final 5:19 of regulation and the entire overtime with four fouls, scored a basket and drained two free throws to give the Pack a 59-57 lead with 3:53 remaining.

“I don’t get into foul trouble very often,” Fazekas said. “I knew coach Fox would coach me through it. He used me at the offensive end, and it worked out.”

Durrall Peterson knocked in a 3-pointer to give the Aggies their last lead, 60-59.

“It was off a double ball screen,” said Peterson, who scored nine points. “It was open a couple of times during the game and the tournament.”

Peterson then made a bonehead play when he fouled Kyle Shiloh, who was attempting a 3-point shot. Shiloh made two of three, giving Nevada a 61-60 lead with 1:49 left. Matheus missed both frees, and Kemp made the Aggies pay with a big 3-pointer with 45.6 left. Fazekas drained two free throws, but all-tourney member Nate Harris lofted in a 3-pointer to keep it a one-possession game, 66-63, with 16.9 left.

It was ironic that it was Kemp, who put the finishing touches on the win. He had 26 points with five 3-pointers against the Aggies in the 75-57 win at Logan. This time his two free throws drove a stake in the heart of Aggie players and fans alike.

“That was a helluva game,” Morrill said. “My team did everything I asked. We gave ourselves a chance to win. We played extremely hard.

“We had a couple of good looks at the end. If they go down, we win. Nevada has a lot of weapons; a lot of good players.”

This was a dandy. No more than six points separated the teams until Chad Bell’s made two free throws to end the game.

The first half resembled a fight between two boxers, who punched and counter-punched for the entire first 20 minutes.

Nevada enjoyed leads of six and five points, respectively, but never could extend it past that. The Pack shot 52 percent, but after a 7-for-12 start, hit only 5 of their next 11.

Utah State’s biggest lead was three points – 27-24 and 29-26. The Aggies put together an 11-5 run for that 29-26 lead, as Matheus converted a three-point play to give USU a 25-24 lead.

Nevada emerged with a 33-31 lead on the strength of a nice 7-2 run in the final 1:18. Fazekas scored four straight points, a basket and two free throws, and Mo Charlo drained a 3-pointer from the right corner with 49.8 remaining. It was the first of three big plays for Charlo, who finished with 14.

Shiloh and Lyndale Burleson held Carroll, who averages 16.7 a game, to only two shots and no points in the first half and only four points for the game.

The teams went back and forth for the first 10:28 of the second half. With the score tied at 43, Charlo roared down the lane and slammed the ball with authority to give the Pack the lead. After a free throw by Peterson, Mo Charlo slammed in a Burleson miss to give Nevada a 47-44 lead with 7:54 left. Both dunks brought the crowd to its collective feet.

“Mo plays well in big games,” Fox said of his senior who finished with 14 points in his final game ever at Lawlor. “He plays well on the road. I had a feeling when I was walking through the hallways that he would play well.”

Nevada maintained its lead until Harris scored five straight points, tying the game at 53. Fazekas gave Nevada a 55-53 lead with 1:09 remaining, and David Pak scored with 49.9 left, tying the game.

That set the stage for the last crazy 45 seconds of regulation and overtime in what will go down as a classic game, one that sent Nevada to the Big Dance again.

“I’m so happy,” Kemp said. “Personally for me after sitting out two years and coming back to win the WAC is great.”

Contact Darrell Moody at dmoody@nevadaappeal.com, or by calling (775) 881-1281