Nevada is just Ram tough enough
Appeal Sports Writer
RENO – For 31-plus minutes, the Colorado State Rams were like the pesky neighborhood dog that wouldn’t go away.
Nevada, led by Marcelus Kemp’s brilliant performance in the second half, went on an 18-8 run to snap a 51-all tie to grab a 74-66 non-conference basketball win Wednesday night before a crowd of 7,070 at Lawlor Events Center.
The win was the Pack’s fourth straight. Nevada carries a 6-4 record into Saturday’s game (11:05 a.m.) at Northern Iowa, a return of last year’s BracketBuster match-up.
“We could separate, but we couldn’t put them away,” Nevada coach Mark Fox said. “One of the things about this team is they aren’t proficient enough with a lead. They wouldn’t go away. You have to give them credit.
“Give Colorado State credit. They shot the ball well. Their 3-point shooting (11-for-22) kept them in the game. They hit some tough shots. We gave them some open looks.”
And, Willis Gardner (19 points) and Andre McFarland (17 points) made the Wolf Pack pay often. Gardner had 13 of his 19 after the intermission and McFarland had eight after the break.
What was amazing about the Rams’ gritty performance is that they did it without Marcus Walker and Stuart Creason, both of whom were in foul trouble throughout.
“It was unfortunate we had to play without both of them, but our freshman stepped up” CSU coach Tim Miles said. “McFarland competed well. He’s been trying to find his way, and he decided to play aggressively.
“I put them (Nevada) right up there with the Minnesotas and the Stanfords.”
Much of that belief is probably because of Kemp, who had 22 of his 28 points in the second half. Kemp went 1-for-6 from the floor in the first half, but was 7-for-10 in the final 20 minutes.
Nine of those 22 second-half points came when Nevada snapped the aforementioned 51-all tie and scored 18 of the next 26 points to grab a 64-57 lead with 4:02 left in the contest.
Demarshay Johnson started the surge with a shot in the paint, freshman Malik Cooke scored on a putback, Kemp hit a fade and Brandon Fields scored on a hard drive to the basket to make it 59-51.
Gardner ended the 8-0 drought with a 3-pointer, but a free throw by Fields and a slam dunk by Kemp off a Fields pass boosted the lead to eight, 62-54. Gardner hit another 3-ball, but Kemp scored five of the Pack’s next seven points to get the lead to 69-59 with 2:41 left.
“I was getting better shots and taking what the defense was giving me,” Kemp said. “I stayed within the offense and took good shots.”
Fox went a step farther.
“I think Marcelus played the most mature game since he’s been here,” Fox said. “He was extremely patient and let the game come to him. He really made his team a lot better by being mature as he was.”
Nevada also helped its cause by shooting 60 percent from the floor in the second half.
“Marcelus was hitting every shot, and that energized us,” said Fields, who finished with 12 points.
Nevada shot just 38 percent in the first half, but still went into intermission with a 33-27 lead.
Kemp was in the forefront of Nevada’s second surge of the first half. Nevada went on a 11-4 run to open up a 30-21 lead in a span of 4-plus minutes.
Kemp assisted on a nice three-point play by Fields and then tossed a gorgeous alley-oop pass to JaVale McGee (11 points, 9 rebounds) for a slam dunk.
After a transition layup by Jesse Woodard, Johnson (8 points, 7 rebounds) scored on a putback and Kemp drained two free throws to make it 28-19. Creason scored from short range, but Kemp answered with two more free throws.
Consecutive 3-pointers by McFarland and Gardner trimmed the lead to 30-27. It was the Rams’ long-range shooting, 5-for-9 from beyond the arc, that kept them in the game.
“They were making some tough shots,” Kemp said. “I thought we were pretty much contesting all the shots.”
Nevada did boost the lead to 43-36 with 15:41 left. McGee started the surge with a slam dunk and Kemp followed with two free throws and a floater in the lane.
The Rams stayed right with the Pack, pulling into the 51-all tie with 8:36 left on a three-point play by McFarland and a 3-pointer by Woodard.