Nevada knocks off San Diego
Appeal Sports Writer
RENO – Sometimes it takes only one play to wake up a team or crowd.
Nevada didn’t settle for one. The Pack made four, two at each end of the court, in a span of 69 seconds to deflate a San Diego rally and go on to a 76-62 nonconference win before a crowd of 6,640 Wednesday night at Lawlor Events Center.
Nevada evened its record at 4-4, while San Diego dropped to 5-7. Nevada goes for its third straight win Sunday at 5 p.m. against Central Florida, the same team that knocked off the Pack to open the season.
“I thought we played really solid in a lot of ways in the first half,” Nevada coach Mark Fox said. “We were unselfish and executed well on offense. We played as well defensively for extended periods as we have this season.
“In the second half, we were not as clean in any area, but we were able to play from ahead and that’s a good thing. We were a lot more mature with the lead. We were able to make smart plays; significant plays to stay in front.”
None bigger than the plays that Brandon Fields (17 points) and JaVale McGee made to jump-start the team and the Lawlor Faithful.
The Pack shot 57 percent in the first half to build a 42-26 halftime lead, only to see USD trim it to 51-43 with a 15-5 half-opening run. Three times San Diego had a chance to cut it to six and three times the Toreros failed.
The third failure was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back.
Fields blocked a Brandon Johnson lay-up attempt from behind. Armon Johnson (10 points) picked up the loose ball and threw a high lob to Fields streaking down the left side of the court, and the 6-foot-3 Fields jammed it home with authority to get the lead back to double digits, 53-43.
“It’s exciting,” Fields said. “I made a defensive play and turned it into a dunk at the other end of the floor.”
San Diego turned the ball over on its next possession, which Pack freshman Malik Cooke turned into a basket.
McGee, who finished with 13 points, eight rebounds and five blocked shots, brought the crowd to its collective feet moments later when he stole a pass and went the length of the court for a rim-rattling slam dunk to complete a 6-0 run and extend Nevada’s lead to 57-43.
“They were exciting plays,” Fox said. “They count just the same (as a regular basket). It did get the crowd back in the game.” The coach went on to add that he hoped it wouldn’t always takes dunks to get his team going.
Bill Grier, San Diego’s first-year head coach, was disappointed with the lost opportunities in the second half.
“We shot ourselves in the foot two or three times,” Grier said. “You can’t do that on the road and against a team that executes as well as they do. This team (Nevada) is going to be fine in their league.
“No question (the dunks were big). That’s when we shot ourselves in the foot. You have to scratch and claw. You can’t let that happen.”
Fox blamed his team’s lack of defense for San Diego being able to come back. The Toreros got to the line often and were in the bonus the final 10 minutes of the game.
“We couldn’t play defense without fouling,” Fox said. “Fouling on defense is failure. We have to learn how to defend without fouling.” San Diego went 14 for 15 from the line in the final 20 minutes.
San Diego did close to 67-57 with 4:01 left, but a floater by Armon Johnson, two free throws by Marcelus Kemp (11 points) and a 3-pointer by Armon Johnson got the lead back up to 17.
No doubt Fox would have liked to bottle what he had in the first half. It might be the best 20 minutes of basketball the Pack has played.
Nevada used two 15-4 runs to build the aforementioned 42-26 lead at the intermission. Nevada, led by Matt LaGrone’s 4-for-5 effort, shot a sizzling 57 percent from the floor, connecting on 16 of 28 shots. LaGrone had eight of his career-high 12 points in the first half.
The first big surge came with Nevada holding a 6-4 lead just 2 1/2 minutes into the game and ended with the Pack leading 21-8.
Demarshay Johnson contributed six points, including a nice three-point play when he snared an offensive rebound and scored on a putback. Fields contributed a 3-pointer, while McGee, Kemp and Armon Johnson all had baskets in that span.
San Diego made a nice move of its own, scoring eight straight points to trim Nevada’s lead to 27-22 with 6:49 left in the half.
That set the stage for Nevada’s second big rally.
McGee started the surge with a tough bank shot and Fields banged in a 3-pointer. After Gyno Pomare scored on a lay-up, Kemp drained two 3-pointers and McGee put down a monster jam off a high lob pass from Armon Johnson for a 40-26 lead.
Pomare had 16 first-half points in 17 minutes, and USD’s 6-8 center was the only player to go at McGee.
“In the first half, we were afraid to go at JaVale McGee,” Grier said. “We can’t play tentative or scared if we expect to be successful.”
“He was killing us early,” Fox said. “He’s a big, strong guy with excellent hands.”
Pomare scored only six points in the final 20 minutes, finishing with 22. Brandon Johnson ended with 18 and Chris Lewis 10. Nevada put all five of its starters in double figures.
“We had five dudes in double digits, so we played some good team ball,” Fields said. “That’s how you win.”