Nevada Wolf Pack holds off Utah State charge
Nov. 24: Nevada 67, Hawaii 54
Dec. 2: Nevada 76, UC Irvine 65
Feb. 17 — Nevada 93, Utah State 87
Feb. 21 — 7 p.m. vs. San Jose State
Feb. 25 — 1 p.m. vs. Colorado State
Feb. 28 — 8 p.m. at UNLV
Mar. 3 — 7 p.m. at San Diego State
LOGAN, Utah — Cody Martin made the loss of starting point guard Lindsey Drew sting a little bit less for Nevada.
Martin led the 24th-ranked Wolf Pack to one of its finest all-around offensive performances of the season in a 93-87 win over Utah State on Saturday. The junior scored a career-high 30 points on 13-of-18 shooting.
Martin took over point guard duties after Drew ruptured his right Achilles tendon in Wednesday’s 77-72 victory over Boise State. Against Utah State, it was up to Martin to both facilitate and initiate the offense.
“It’s hard to try to pick up his role because he’s a really really big part of our team,” Martin said. “Our biggest facilitator. One of our leaders. He’s a really good player, so you can’t really take his spot. The biggest thing for me is to try to be a little bit more aggressive, make sure I take care of the ball.”
Nevada didn’t miss a beat.
The Wolf Pack (23-5, 11-2 Mountain West) shot 59.3 percent from the field — including 11-of-21 from 3-point range — to pull away from the Aggies. Caleb Martin, Cody’s twin brother, added 23 points and Jordan Caroline chipped in with 20 points for the Wolf Pack.
Koby McEwen scored a career-high 32 points and Sam Merrill added 16 to lead Utah State. The Aggies (14-14, 7-8) have lost 14 straight to ranked opponents and fell to the Wolf Pack at home for just the second time in five games.
“That’s as hard a team to defend as I’ve seen come through here in a long time,” Aggies coach Tim Duryea said. “Our guys, effort-wise, (were) good on the defensive end. We did a lot of really good things, but they made tough shot after tough shot after tough shot.”
Utah State was the hotter team from the field early, going 13 of 19 (68.4 percent) in the first 12 minutes. Nevada used a 17-0 run late in the first half to take its first double-digit lead at 47-37. Cody Martin converted a four-point play to ignite the run, and Hallice Cooke and Kendall Stephens put the Wolf Pack in front with back-to-back 3-pointers.
Nevada ultimately took a 52-40 halftime lead as Utah State missed 12 of 13 shots over the final 7:19 of the first half.
“When we get defensive stops, we get up the floor so quick,” Wolf Pack coach Eric Musselman said. “When we made those stops, we got into that spurtability where we could just run, run, run and get transition threes or layups.”
The Aggies trimmed the lead to 72-66 on a dunk from DeAngelo Isby with 8:32 left. Nevada kept Utah State from getting any closer by hitting six straight baskets over a five-minute stretch. Caroline finished the string with a 3-pointer that put the Wolf Pack up 87-75 with 3:10 remaining.
McEwen ran off eight points in a minute, capped by a hammer dunk, to cut Nevada’s lead to 91-87 with 14.6 seconds left. Caleb Martin sealed the win on a pair of free throws with 7.6 seconds remaining.
Nevada: The Wolf Pack opened up a 1½ -game lead over Boise State atop the Mountain West standings and avoided a loss that could have damaged their NCAA Tournament hopes. With three of its four remaining games coming against the lower half of the league, Nevada can clinch at least a share of the regular season title in the week ahead.
Utah State: The Aggies feasted on a steady diet 3-pointers from the opening tip and it ultimately cost them. Utah State hit 6 of 10 from beyond the arc through the first 12 minutes, but went 1 of 10 over the next eight minutes. The Aggies finished 10 of 33 (30.3 percent) from the perimeter.
With Drew sidelined up to 9 months, Musselman started virtually from scratch with Nevada’s offense before handing it over to Cody Martin. He installed a new offensive package and condensed the playbook to make it simpler. This meant scrapping a lot of plays that Drew could run well because of his experience.
The simplified approach worked. Nevada’s shooting percentage was a season-best for a Utah State opponent. The Wolf Pack were just the sixth team this season to shoot better than 50 percent against the Aggies.
Cody Martin kept his offensive outburst in perspective.
“I’m not going to come off this game thinking I’m going to shoot 40 shots,” Martin said. “I’m just going to keep approaching the game like I normally do: facilitate, play hard and be a leader, stay engaged and play defense.”
Nevada: The Wolf Pack host San Jose State on Wednesday.
Utah State: The Aggies visit Air Force on Saturday.