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Nevada men’s hoops holds off La. Tech

Nevada Appeal Staff Reports

By DARRELL MOODY

Nevada Appeal Nedws Service

RENO – It may have been the biggest basket of Garry Hill-Thomas’ four-year career at Nevada.

Hill-Thomas, not noted for his outside shooting, knocked down a huge 19-foot jump shot with 12.3 seconds left to help the Wolf Pack squeeze past Louisiana Tech 71-67 Thursday night before a crowd of 6,556 at Lawlor Events Center.

“We didn’t play very well,” said Nevada coach Trent Johnson, whose team hosts SMU Saturday at 7:05 p.m. “For us to win when we played so bad at both ends of the floor was good. Last year I don’t think we would have won this game.”

Indeed. The sluggish Wolf Pack watched its 18-point second half lead get whittled to 69-67 after Corey Dean hit a jump shot over Kirk Snyder with 44.4 sedconds left in regulation.

That set the stage for Hill-Thomas, who wasn’t the main option on the Wolf Pack’s last basket. The play was intended to go to Kirk Snyder (16 points), but Louisiana Tech shut him off, and point guard Todd Okeson flipped a pass out to Hill-Thomas on the left side of the court, and the senior knocked it down.

“It felt great,” Hill-Thomas said. “Not much I could do with it (except shoot). I was wide open and let it go. It felt good, but a lot of shots feel good, but don’t go in. I was more than ecstatic when it went in.

“I think the defense broke down on the last play. I don’t think they expected me to shoot it. They just happened to leave me.”

Johnson, during a timeout, had told Hill-Thomas to be aggressive and look to score if the defense sagged off him to help out on Snyder.

Louisiana Tech’s Wayne Powell, after an errant pass, had just enough time to throw up a 30-footer in the waning seconds.

The win avenged last year’s 99-97 overtime loss at Lawlor that saw the Wolf Pack rally in the second half to send the game into overtime.

“It was a good comeback, but not quite good enough,” Louisiana Tech coach Keith Richard said. “We finally found a group that started getting some stops at the defensive end of the floor, and that helped us get back into the game.”

Don’t forget the rebounding, coach. Louisiana Tech outrebounded Nevada 46-30, as freshman Paul Millsap finished with 21 points and 21 rebounds. Millsap had 10 of those points in the Bulldogs’ second-half surge, and earned kudos from the Wolf Pack players. Jue Michael Young had seven points in a 17-7 second-half run to back up Millsap.

“He can play,” Johnson said. “Our foul trouble took away part of our aggressiveness. I like a kid that lets the game come to him.”

And, the scary thing is that according to Richard, Millsap hasn’t even scratched the surface.

“He’s starting to develop a low-post game,” Richard said. “I’m watching him grow (as a player) right in front of my eyes.”

Fatigue may have been a factor in the second half, too. The Wolf Pack were playing their third game in six days.

“They (Louisiana Tech) had a lot of energy at the end,” Snyder said. “They didn’t play that hard until the end. They had some left in the tank.”

“We weren’t getting back on defense, and they were getting some easy baskets,” Okeson said. “Our defense let up and they made every basket, and our shots weren’t falling.”

Although Johnson was unhappy with his team’s performance overall, he liked the effort in the latter stages of the first half when the Wolf Pack outscored the Bulldogs 14-3 in the final seven-plus minutes of the first half to take a 38-28 lead.

What’s even more impressive about that run is that it came without Snyder, who picked up his second foul with 7:36 left and spent the rest of the half on the bench.

Marcelus Kemp, Okeson and freshman center Nick Fazekas all had four points apiece in the aforementioned surge. Fazekas finished with 12 points, seven rebounds and three blocked shots in his starting debut. Senior Sean Paul was relegated to the bench.

“It (starting for first time) felt good,” Fazekas said. “I’m glad I finally worked my way into starting. I felt I deserved it. I put in a lot of hard work. I’m starting to settle in.”

And what did Johnson think about his prized recruit?

“He played all right at the offensive end,” the Nevada coach said. “There has to be a sense of urgency at the defensive end. That’s the difference between him being a great player, not a good player.”

Notes: Snyder needs 33 points to reach the 1,000 mark in his two-plus year career at Nevada … Nevada’s problems at the foul line continued. The Wolf Pack hit only 14 of 25 from the line, and are currently last in the Western Athletic Conference in that category … Senior forward Deane Browne is still nursing a sore knee and didn’t play against the Bulldogs … Kevinn Pinkney had an off night, scoring just two points in 22 minutes. However, his two free throws gave Nevada a 69-65 lead with 58.4 left in the game.