Pack heads to Las Vegas on 2-game win streak | NevadaAppeal.com

Pack heads to Las Vegas on 2-game win streak

JOE SANTORO
For the Nevada Appeal

RENO – The Nevada Wolf Pack were successful in beating their own emotions and the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs Saturday night at Lawlor Events Center.

“I was walking around all day thinking about it being Senior Night,” said Olek Czyz, one of two seniors along with Dario Hunt that were honored before a 79-69 victory over the Bulldogs and an appreciative crowd of 7,894 fans. “I had to remind myself to stick to the game plan, that it was just another game. But it was very hard.”

Czyz had nine points and six rebounds in 21 minutes.

Hunt, who played 39 of the 40 minutes, had 16 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks as the Pack wrapped up its regular season with a 25-5 overall record and 13-1 in the Western Athletic Conference.

“Winning this game was very important for me,” Hunt said. “I didn’t want to leave here (Lawlor Events Center) with a sour taste. We took care of business at the end of the day.”

The end was definitely sweeter than the beginning.

Louisiana Tech (16-15, 6-8) took a 29-27 lead at halftime after a sluggish first half by both teams. The Pack’s sluggishness was mainly due to point guard Deonte Burton sitting on the bench with two fouls for 14 of the 20 first-half minutes. Czyz also played just seven minutes in the opening half because of two fouls.

“Olek had foul trouble, Deonte had foul trouble,” Hunt said. “We had guys out there playing out of position. That explains the struggles we had.”

“Without Deonte we were a little timid on offense,” Pack coach David Carter said. “We didn’t attack.”

The Bulldogs also held a 51-46 lead with 11:18 to play in the second half after a dunk by Cordarius Johnson. Three-pointers by Kenyon McNeail, Trevor Gaskins and Brandon Gibson in the second half after the Pack tied the game at 39-39 also led to the Bulldogs’ five-point lead.

“We didn’t play particularly well in the first half,” Pack coach David Carter said, referring to an opening 20 minutes that included 12 Wolf Pack turnovers. “A lot of that was the emotion.”

Carter knew that this final regular-season home game would be a struggle for his team. In addition to the emotions and distractions of the Senior Night festivities, the Pack also had little to play for on Saturday having wrapped up sole possession of first place in the WAC on Thursday night by beating New Mexico State 65-61.

“There is just so much emotion involved,” Carter said. “It’s a very special game, knowing two seniors were playing their last home game. It’s a tough game to play.”

The Wolf Pack, though, put all of the emotions and the Bulldogs away with a game-changing 12-0 run mid-way through the second half, turning that 51-46 deficit into a 58-51 lead in just under three minutes.

A 3-pointer by Malik Story jumpstarted the run and a lay-up by Burton tied the game at 51-51. Czyz hit a jumper to put the Pack up 53-51, for its first lead since late in the first half. Jerry Evans then drained a 3-pointer from the right side off a feed from Burton for a 56-51 lead and Burton drove the lane for a lay-up and a 58-51 lead with 8:25 to play.

Louisiana Tech, which brought a five-game winning streak into Lawlor, pulled to within 71-64 with 3:06 to play on a lay-up by Romario Souza (15 points).

Evans (13 points, nine rebounds) hauled in an offensive rebound off a missed jumper by Czyz and scored on a lay-up for a 73-64 lead with 2:37 to play. Burton then fed the senior Hunt for a lay-up and a 76-65 lead with 1:17 to play and did the same for sophomore Devonte Elliott for a 79-65 advantage with 44 seconds left.

“We (the underclassmen) wanted those guys (Czyz and Hunt) to leave on a good note,” said Burton, who played all 20 minutes of the second half and finished with a game-high 20 points (15 in the second half).

The Wolf Pack, which won 15 of its 17 games at Lawlor this year, has now won 25 or more games in a season just six times in school history. The first time was 1945-46 and the other four took place from 2003-04 through 2006-07.

“Anytime you win it’s good,” said Carter, who has a 59-37 record as the Pack head coach over the last three seasons (34-11 over his last 45 games). “It’s not so much how you play. We’ve played 30 games now and we’ve seen just about everything. We just wanted to get a win in this game.”

The Wolf Pack will now focus on its opening game in the WAC Tournament on Thursday night (6 p.m.) at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas against San Jose State. The winner of the three-day tournament earns the WAC’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. All four of the Pack teams from 2004-07 that won 25 or more games went to the NCAA Tournament.

“We talked before this game about getting momentum going into the tournament,” Carter said. “I think we got some tonight.”

The Wolf Pack is confident heading down to Las Vegas.

“Obviously we’re the team to beat,” Hunt said. “I respect every opponent we play but they have to respect us, too.”

“Our goal is to win the WAC Tournament,” Czyz said. “We’re not settling for anything less.”