Nevada Wolf Pack ‘rolling’ after win against Illinois State
Joe Santoro: Musselman feels the agony of winning
RENO — Seven and counting.
Nevada tied the 2006-07 team coached by Mark Fox with its seventh straight victory to open the season, a 98-68 demolition of Illinois State on Wednesday night before a crowd of 8,293 at Lawlor Events Center.
Hopefully it’s a sign of even better things. The 2006-07 team went on to win 17 of its first 18 en route to a school-record 29-5 season. The 1951-52 team started the year 14-0, but the program wasn’t Division I at the time.
It was the second 30-point win for the Pack this year. Nevada pounded Santa Clara, 93-63, on the recent road trip.
“We’re rolling,” said Jordan Caroline, who scored 20 points coming off the bench. “We’re trying to get even better.”
“It’s awesome,” said Caleb Martin, who finished with 21 points. “Nobody likes to lose. We’re still trying to get better; still trying to figure things out.”
Nevada coach Eric Musselman said the keys to the game were ball movement and offensive rebounding.
The former led to a 14-for-29 effort from beyond the 3-point arc, and the 11-4 advantage on the offensive glass led to 19 second-chance points.
“Our goal is to get 200 passes (in a game),” Musselman said. “I believe we were at 223 passes without watching the film. We have a grad assistant that charts it. I didn’t know if we’d ever get to 200. At every practice we show NBA clips of ball movement, and we’ll continue to look at it.
“We looked at the stats, and talked to the team. We told them we couldn’t be close on the offensive glass, we had to dominate them. We sent five guys to the offensive glass. Normally we’d send four.”
Early on, however, it was more about the 3-ball for both teams. The first eight baskets combined were 3-pointers, and Musselman said the last time he was involved in a start like that was in the NBA.
Illinois State went 3-for-3 out of the gate, building a 9-0 lead in the first 90 seconds. That hadn’t happened to Nevada before, but the Pack didn’t panic.
The Pack, in fact, restored order with two 3s by Kendall Stephens (19 points) and one by Caleb Martin (21 points). It showed the Pack’s maturity. There was no panic. Heck, Musselman didn’t even call a timeout.
“We have a mature group,” Musselman said. “We have a lot of leaders, and that makes my job easier.”
Nevada took its first lead of the half, 18-17, on a Stephens 3-pointer with 13:52 left, and stretched the lead to 22-17 on a bucket by Caleb Martin and a putback by Caroline. After a 3-pointer by Illinois State’s Isaac Gasssman, Nevada scored 12 of the next 17 to up its lead to 34-25 with 8:36 remaining.
Caleb Martin and Stephens had two 3-pointers each to lead the surge. Illinois State cut the deficit to 36-33 with 6:31 left, but Nevada used an 11-0 run, led by Caroline’s three baskets, to grab a 47-33 edge with less than two minutes left in the half. Caroline was a beast inside, and the Redbirds had nobody that could contain him.
Nevada would go on to a 51-36 lead at the half. The 51-point first half was the best of the season.
The teams combined for 18 long-range baskets in the opening half. Nevada shot 19-for-35 overall, including 9-for-20 from 3. The Redbirds shot 50 percent overall, including 9-for-19 from 3-point range.
“Ball movement is why we got so many open 3s,” Martin said.
“It’s everything,” said Stephens, who entered the game in an 0-for-6 skid and tied his season best with five 3s. “It’s the best way to keep everybody in rhythm. We feed off each other.”
Illinois State was hampered over the final 10 minutes of the half when Milik Yarbrough took a knee to the jaw on a play when Nevada recorded a blocked shot. He left the game at that point, and ISU officials said he had a concussion.
Yarbrough had given Nevada fits with 14 points on 5-for-6 shooting, including four 3-pointers.
The pace slowed considerably in the second half, though the Redbirds cut the Nevada lead to 58-46 with 14:51 left on a free throw and basket by Phil Fayne, who scored 15 points before fouling out with 6:41 left.
After the Fayne basket, Nevada went on a 16-5 run to open a 74-51 lead with 9:17 remaining.
Unlike the first half when Stephens and Martin carried the scoring load, points came from different sources.
Caroline did have seven, including a rim-rattling dunk, Josh Hall scored twice, Stephens had a bucket and Caleb Martin drained a 3-pointer.
Musselman said that defense played a key in the second half. The Redbirds went 3-for-14 from beyond the arc and shot 36.7 overall in the final 20 minutes. He said that the team used double switches in order to get better match-ups.
“Everybody that checked in contributed and played well,” Musselman said. “That is good for chemistry or our mojo, whatever you want to call it. It’s a good game to go out on the road on.”