NEVADA: Wolf Pack men win regular-season opener
For the Nevada Appeal
RENO – David Carter watched his Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball team grow right before his eyes Saturday afternoon.
“That was nice to see, to see the players take over by themselves without me calling a timeout or drawing up a play to get us going,” the Pack head coach said after an 81-66 season-opening victory over the Montana Grizzlies at Lawlor Events Center. “That was huge to see them make those plays.”
Carter was referring to a 68-second stretch at the end of the first half that saw the Pack go on an 8-0 run to cut Montana’s lead to just 34-32 at halftime
“That stretch was a real big key,” forward Malik Story said. “It gave us momentum going into the second half.”
“That was the turning point,” center Dario Hunt said.
Point guard Deonte Burton started the game-changing run with a 3-pointer with 1:11 to go in the first half. Burton then stole the ball at mid-court and fed Hunt for a dunk. Story then ended the uprising with another 3-pointer with three seconds to go in the half.
“Those possessions fired us up,” Carter said. “That gave us a big boost.”
The Wolf Pack trailed by as much as 11 in the first half, 26-16, with 8:26 to go. Montana still led 34-24 with 1:11 to go.
“We weren’t playing well to that point,” Carter said. “We had just turned the ball over three times right before that. Montana actually had all the momentum before that. So that was a big, big key for us.”
Carter, though, had a simple message for his young Pack team at halftime. Nine players made their official regular-season debuts in a Wolf Pack uniform.
“That (the first-half struggles) was just a young team trying to get a feel for the game,” Carter said. “So I just told them in the locker room, ‘Don’t wait until a team punches you in the mouth before you respond. You need to respond right away.’ But that’s just something they have to learn, being so young.”
The Wolf Pack definitely responded in the second half, outscoring the Big Sky Conference Grizzlies, 49-32.
“We just came out this game very passive,” said Story, who drained four 3-pointers and scored 16 points. “We really weren’t attacking them, either on offense or the defensive end. Once we did that we were able to play looser and play our game.”
Story punched Montana in the mouth after halftime, hitting three more 3-pointers in the first five minutes of the second half to give the Pack a 46-39 lead.
“I was just taking what the defense was giving me,” Story said. “On that shot at the end of the half, I was going to drive but the defender backed off me. So I just pulled up and shot it.”
Burton had a solid all-around game with 17 points, four assists, two blocks, two steals and just one turnover in 27 minutes.
“Diving on the floor like that (for his steal at the end of the first half), doing those little things, that makes us a better team,” Burton said.
Burton also had a three-point play for a 59-46 lead with 9:45 to play, breaking down his defender with a lightning-quick crossover dribble, absorbing the foul and finishing the layup.
Hunt, the Pack’s only returning starter this year, scored a team-high 18 points.
“Everybody just did a great job of finding me,” said Hunt, who also had seven rebounds in 28 minutes. “I was just able to find my spots. I just always try to find a way to impact the game.”
The Wolf Pack has now won 15 of its last 17 season-opening games.
“This was big for our young group,” Carter said. “I didn’t want our young guys to lose a game at home and then have to go to Los Angeles to play in the NIT, licking their wounds. This is big for our confidence.”
The Pack plays Pacific on Monday in Los Angeles to open the NIT Tip-off Tournament. Then Nevada will play either Pepperdine or UCLA on Tuesday.