Nevada has just enough in the tank | NevadaAppeal.com

Nevada has just enough in the tank

STOCKTON, Calif. – The Nevada Wolf Pack exorcised a demon Saturday night.

Two big second-half runs enabled 20th-ranked and unbeaten Nevada to wipe out a nine-point halftime deficit and beat Pacific, 77-70, before a crowd of 4,521 at the Spanos Center.

Pacific, which dropped to 4-3, had won 20 straight against Nevada in Stockton. The last time Nevada won here was in the 1949-50 season.

Nevada’s fifth straight win, including four straight on the road, marks the first time since the 1951-52 season that the Pack started a season with five straight wins. That 1951-52 team started the season with 14 straight wins.

“I’m proud of the kids,” Nevada coach Mark Fox said. “It’s not easy to do that. We beat four teams (on the road) that made the post-season last year. We played four very good programs.”

And, just as it did against Kansas on Thursday night, the Wolf Pack hit some huge free throws, sinking 11 of 12 in the final 3 minutes 6 seconds. Nevada hit 27 for 30 in the contest.

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In fact, Nevada went without a field goal in that span, as Pacific got in early foul trouble in the second half and was forced to foul in an attempt to get the ball back after Nevada had built up a lead. Kyle Shiloh (8 points), Nick Fazekas (23 points, 11 rebounds), Marcelus Kemp (14 points) and Mo Charlo, who scored a career-high 23 points, all hit two free throws inside the final minute to turn a five-point lead into a double-digit lead.

“That was a big deal to be able to shoot 1 and 1 (be in the bonus) for that long of a time,” said Fazekas. “To come back and beat a team like UOP was big.”

It took a tongue lashing from Fox at the half and a more concerted physical effort to get the job done.

“Coach chewed on us a little bit,” admitted Charlo, who has scored in double figures the entire road trip.

“We addressed a few things,” Fox said. “We were not very aggressive in the first half. We didn’t have the energy.”

Whatever Fox said seemed to work. Nevada, which trailed 39-30 at the half, was a different team in the final 20 minutes, outscoring Pacific 47-31.

“We wanted to be more aggressive early,” Fox said.

And, that meant using an inside-out philosophy against Pacific’s 1-2-2 zone. Nevada worked the ball around, and was patient enough to find seams in the zone.

Charlo, who had a large contingent of family and friends at the game, and Fazekas got hot at the same time.

A 9-2 run at the outset of the half, eight by Charlo, closed the gap to 41-39 with 15:54 left. Six straight points by Fazekas – a layup, two free throws and a short right-hander from left of the lane – gave Nevada its first lead, 47-45, with 12:05 remaining.

Pacific countered with six straight points for a 51-47 lead, but Nevada scored nine straight to open a 56-51 lead. Charlo worked his way inside for a three-point play with 8:15 left and added two free throws with 7:56 remaining. Burleson knocked down a single foul shot and Charlo hit a difficult trey.

“I could see a weakness, and I tried to get inside and get to the rim,” Charlo said. “Coach said we didn’t play with energy. I took that personally.

“We did a better job of moving the ball around the perimeter. I wasn’t concerned or worried. I knew we would come out ready to play in the second half. We came together.”

And, the Tigers faltered in crunch time.

“We didn’t really execute and take good shots when we had to at key times,” Pacific coach Bob Thomason said.

It was a far cry from the first half. Nevada again seemed surprised to see a zone defense, and didn’t react well.

Trailing 27-23, UOP scored the next 10 points, four by Michael White (11 points) and three on a nice three-point play by Steffan Johnson (11 points) to make it 35-27. After Shiloh ended the drought with a trey, Anthony Esparza sank two free throws and White added a hoop to make it 39-30.

“We were outplayed,” Fox said. “We dug ourselves a hole in the last three minutes of the half. It was a good zone. We haven’t spent as much time on our zone offense. We haven’t been able to find practice time to do it because of travel.”

“I thought they did a good job defensively,” said Fazekas, who scored 17 of his 23 in the last 20 minutes. “I didn’t get many touches. I’m sure they watched the Kansas game and it worked to their advantage for a little while.”

Until the slumbering Pack woke up.