Nevada men hold off San Jose State
Appeal Sports Writer
SAN JOSE, Calif. – It was a struggle with a capital S.
Nevada, despite not scoring a field goal in the final five-plus minutes, needed four straight free throws by Nick Fazekas in the final 86 seconds to outlast stubborn San Jose State 63-56 Saturday in a Western Athletic Conference game at The Event Center.
The win was Nevada’s first in conference play. The Pack are 11-3 overall heading into next week’s home games against Idaho and Boise State.
“It was really a battle,” Nevada coach Mark Fox said. “I’m really proud of our team. Yesterday the players were separated from the coaches all day (because of airplane problems). We didn’t have time to practice or watch tape.
“This reminded me a lot of last year’s game (at SJSU). We had a tough time getting up and down the court and getting to loose balls. The first three or four jump shots were all short. San Jose State deserves some of the credit for that also.”
At 11-3, Fox said his team still has a ways to go.
“We’re a work in progress,” Fox said. “I don’t think we’re a great defensive team. Last year we were a great defensive team. There are times when we play great defense. We’re an above-average defensive team. Offensively, we’re still improving. Last year we got better as the season went along. Hopefully this team will do the same thing.”
George Nessman, San Jose State’s first-year coach, is hoping his team does the same thing. Offense has been one big struggle this year.
For the second straight game, the Spartans battled hard, but couldn’t come up with a key basket.
On Thursday, they trailed Utah State 44-40, only to see the Aggies go on a 7-0 run. Against Nevada, San Jose State cut the Pack’s lead to 53-50 with 8:36 left, only to see Nevada score six straight points to build a 59-50 lead with 5:23 left.
Fazekas scored in the lane with 6:43 left, and 31 seconds later added two free throws. Kyle Shiloh scored Nevada’s final field goal of the game after a Spartan turnover.
The Spartans cut the lead to 59-54 on a basket by Menelik Barbary (10 points) and two free throws by Kevin Fleming, who scored eight points and grabbed nine rebounds off the bench.
Nevada had a chance to increase its lead on each of its next three trips down the floor, but came up empty, and each time it was Ramon Sessions who misfired.
The sophomore guard is still trying to get his shooting stroke back after battling a hip flexor injury earlier this year. Fox felt the shots came within the framework of the offense.
“Ramon has the green light,” Fox said. “He was a great lead guard last year. He had the injury this year. He went a month without any practice time. It will take some time to get it back. Shooting is the last thing to come back.
“He’ll be a better player than he was last year.”
Fazekas drained two free throws with 1:26 left to make it 61-54. Matt Misko trimmed the lead to 61-56, but two more Fazekas free throws with 14.1 left gave Nevada a 63-56 lead.
“Nick played like he is the MVP of the conference,” Fox said. “He’s getting lots of different defenses thrown at him. He’s more physical this year and has played well. “
Nessman was frustrated by his team’s inability to take advantage of Nevada’s offensive drought late in the game. The Spartans only had two baskets in the final five minutes.
“We tried to make it hard on him (Fazekas),” Nessman said. “He scored 37 against Hawai’i and we held him to 12 less. He’s very good. We’ve had a hard time scoring. We’re trying everything.”
Nessman said the only times the Spartans have had success is when they have scored 70 or more points.
Just like last season, Nevada looked sluggish to open the game.
A 10-2 run gave the Pack an early 12-4 lead, but the Spartans retaliated with a 13-4 run to take a 17-16 lead with 8:31 remaining.
That’s when Fazekas, who was coming off a career-high 37-point effort against Hawai’i on Thursday night, got his game rolling.
The 6-11 junior scored seven straight points in a 9-2 run to give Nevada a 25-19 lead. After a putback slam by Menelik Barbary, Nevada went on an 10-5 half-closing run, four of the points by Mo Charlo, to open up a 35-26 halftime lead.
San Jose State, which shot only 38.6 for the game, stubbornly kept nipping at the Pack’s heels, staying within seven points for the first nine minutes of the second half.
A basket and free throw by Matt Misko trimmed the lead to 48-44 with 11:34 remaining. Lyndale Burleson buried a huge 3-pointer from the left corner for a 51-44 lead. The Spartans scored six of the next eight to make it 53-50, setting the stage for Nevada’s game-breaking run.
The victory gives the Pack a split on their first road trip of the season, and that’s not too bad.
“There’s an old saying that to win the league you have to sweep at home and split on the road,” Fox said. “We got a road split. As disappointed as we were to lose at Hawai’i, I was proud we were able to get this win.”
And Fox hopes this will jump start his team, especially with two home games ahead on the schedule.