Pack cruises past Cal Poly
For the Nevada Appeal
RENO – Christmas came early for the Nevada Wolf Pack Tuesday night.
“Everybody chipped in,” coach David Carter said after the Wolf Pack cruised to an easy 69-56 victory over the Cal Poly Mustangs at Lawlor Events Center. “It was good to see everyone contribute.”
The Wolf Pack, now 6-4, led by at least 10 over the final 24:29 and played all 13 players for the first time this season. The 13-point victory is the Pack’s second largest of the season behind a 79-61 win over Southern Utah on Nov. 18.
“Everybody came out and played hard,” said guard Malik Story, who led all scorers with 19 points. “And everybody played well.”
Story set the tone, hitting five 3-pointers in the first half. The senior, who passed Mike Gray to move into 18th place on the Pack’s all-time scoring list with 1,127 points, connected on six of his first seven shots and had 17 points with 4:29 to go in the opening half as the Pack built a 31-19 lead.
“In the second half he just wanted to get everyone involved more,” said Carter, whose Wolf Pack is now 5-1 at home this season and 21-3 over the last two seasons.
Everyone in silver and blue did get involved for the first time this season. Red-shirt freshman Richard Bell even made his Wolf Pack debut and had a steal and a foul in one minute of action.
“We have a couple of wins in a row now and that’s always nice,” said Jordan Burris, who added 13 points, five rebounds and three assists.
The win over the Mustangs is also the Pack’s second straight with its new starting lineup that features Burris and Cole Huff instead of Jerry Evans and Devonte Elliott. The Pack beat Washington 76-73 last Saturday on the road with this same lineup.
“It’s not so much the starting lineup that has made the difference,” Burris said. “It’s just collectively as a team. Everyone is just playing with more energy.”
Evans, a starter the past two seasons, has flourished in his new role coming off the bench. The junior had a career high 14 rebounds against Cal Poly and also had eight points in 24 minutes. Since losing his starting job three games ago, Evans is averaging 9.7 points and 9.0 rebounds a game after averaging just 5.3 points and 3.4 rebounds in seven games as a starter.
“I really don’t know if that’s the reason,” Evans said, when asked if his demotion to the bench has keyed his increased level of production. “I really can’t say. All I’m doing is going out there and playing ball.”
Evans had a 3-pointer for a 37-21 Pack lead with 2:31 to play in the first half and his lay-up gave the Pack a 50-30 lead with 15 minutes left in the game. His 10 rebounds in the second half also was a big reason why the Pack led by as much as 25 (61-36 with 6:47 left) and never let the Mustangs get back in the game.
“He has more of a sense of urgency now,” said Carter of Evans. “I know he’s trying to prove me wrong (by replacing him in the starting lineup) but right now I’m right.”
Carter couldn’t be more pleased with his lineup changes.
“It’s important to know what you are going to get out of players every night,” Carter said. “And now I have a good feel about what guys are going to bring every game.”
Cal Poly, which is the fifth Big West Conference team the Pack has played this season (they are 3-2), rallied from down 18 to beat then No. 11 UCLA 80-78 in November. The team that upset the Bruins, though, never did show up at Lawlor Events Center.
“I think our length bothered them on defense,” Carter said.
The Mustangs shot just 33% (22-of-67) for the game and were out-rebounded by the Pack, 47-31. The 16-rebound difference is the largest for the Pack since they beat Oral Roberts on the boards 45-29 last March 14 in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament.
“Cal Poly is a very patient team on offense and they like to use all 35 seconds on the shot clock,” Carter said. “I think that helped us because they weren’t taking the first open shot they got.”
Carter said he was about to get a little nervous when Cal Poly cut the Pack lead to 64-53 with 1:41 to play on a jumper by Dylan Royer (team-high 13 points).
“If it would have gotten to nine, I would have been nervous,” smiled Carter, whose Wolf Pack have won four games by three points or less. “As long as it was double digits, I was OK.”
Patrick Nyeko and Burris hit a pair of free throws in the final 92 seconds to keep Carter calm.
“I think those last few minutes were a good lesson for our young kids,” said Carter, who also used junior guard Brice Crook (one minute) for just the second time this season.
The Pack seemed to coast the entire second half with the big lead. They took 15 fewer shots in the second half and scored just 29 points. In the first half they were also 8-of-12 from 3-point range and in the second half they were just 1-of-7.
“I think we got a little complacent,” Carter said.
The game, though, was never in any serious jeopardy of getting away from the Pack.
“We kept the momentum the whole game,” Carter said. “The more practice the guys get with the new lineup, the more comfortable they are getting. I think you saw that in this game.”
The Wolf Pack will host San Francisco at Lawlor Events Center on Saturday afternoon (3 p.m.).