Pack rallies against Bulldogs
For the Nevada Appeal
RENO — There might have been a little silver and blue magic in the air once again at Lawlor Events Center Saturday night.
The Nevada Wolf Pack went on a furious 14-0 run to wipe out a late nine-point deficit to stun the Fresno State Bulldogs 78-76 in front of a crowd of 9,155.
“We were very lucky,” Wolf Pack coach Steve Alford said. “That’s all I can tell you.”
Fresno State led 71-62 with under seven minutes to play before the Wolf Pack erupted for 14 unanswered points. The game wasn’t decided until Fresno’s New Williams missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Lawlor Events Center, it seems, just won’t let the Wolf Pack lose a Mountain West game. The Pack, now 18-10 overall and 11-5 in the Mountain West, has now won 20 consecutive Mountain West home games in a row. The Pack’s last conference loss at home was 86-78 to UNLV on Feb. 6, 2018. The Pack has also won 10 games in a row at home and is 12-2 at Lawlor this year.
“We came out flat,” said Wolf Pack senior point guard Lindsey Drew, who had 15 points, six rebounds, three assists and three steals. “We didn’t have the start we wanted. Our fans definitely kept us in this game.”
“That’s just how great Lawlor is and how great our fans are,” said senior guard Nisre Zouzoua, who had 19 points and five 3-pointers. “They definitely brought the energy to us.”
Alford saw his Wolf Pack recover from a 12-point deficit in the first half and the nine-point deficit down the stretch in the second half.
Fresno State fell to 10-18 overall and 6-11 in the Mountain West and has now lost six games in a row to the Wolf Pack dating back to January 2017.
“I didn’t like our demeanor,” Alford said. “I didn’t like our energy. We really looked like a team that was coming off two big wins on the road (at UNLV on Feb. 12 and New Mexico on Feb. 18) and just said, ‘Oh, we’re at home so we’ll win.’ We learned a lesson.”
Jalen Harris led the Pack with 20 points on 7-of-20 shooting (1-of-4 on threes). It is his lowest scoring output since he had 19 against New Mexico on Jan. 25.
“I don’t think we thought we would just walk in here and win,” Zouzoua said. “But we didn’t bring that little extra oomph we need. We need to make sure that we always play with a chip on our shoulder.”
That chip on the Pack’s shoulders returned when Fresno State took a nine-point lead with under seven minutes to play.
Senior Jazz Johnson, who finished with 15 points and three threes, led the comeback. The 5-foot-10 guard scored nine points on two free throws, a pair of layups and a 3-pointer to key the Pack’s 14-0 run. Zouzoua connected on a 3-pointer to start the run as the Pack cut Fresno’s lead to 71-65 with 6:26 to play. Johnson then erupted for nine consecutive points in a span of just 2:05 and Harris capped the run with two free throws.
“We didn’t guard well,” Alford said. “But when they (Fresno State) got that lead (71-62 with 6:45 to play), from that point on, our guys were like, ‘Oh, now we have to guard.’ We defended better after that.”
Drew said the Wolf Pack never panicked.
“No matter what the score is, you play to the last minute,” Drew said. “We knew we had plenty of time and we just had to keep playing.”
The Wolf Pack trailed just 43-42 at halftime despite digging an 18-6 hole in the first six minutes.
The Pack turned the ball over four times in the first six minutes. The Bulldogs got 3-pointers from Jarred Hyder, Noah Blackwell and Nate Grimes all in the first two minutes of the game for a 9-2 lead. Orlando Robinson had a dunk and Williams had a layup as the Bulldogs stretched their lead to 13-2 just three minutes into the game. Hyder drained his second 3-pointer for a 16-4 Fresno lead five minutes into the game and a dunk by Robinson made it 16-4 a minute later.
Alford called a time out just 3:19 into the game with the Pack trailing 13-2.
“That wasn’t pleasant,” Alford said. “When a head coach has to call a timeout (three) minutes into the game, that’s not what I like doing. But we just tried to rattle them (the Pack players) a little bit. There were a lot of periods in this game that I didn’t care for.”
The Wolf Pack finally found some energy about seven minutes into the game. Down 18-6, the Wolf Pack then dominated the next 9:22 to take a 33-28 lead with 4:34 left in the half.
Zane Meeks started the Pack comeback with a 3-pointer with 13:30 to play in the half. A layup by Harris and a 3-pointer from Zouzoua completed an 8-0 Pack run. Harris had a short jumper and Zouzoua had another 3-pointer a minute later as the Wolf Pack cut Fresno’s lead to just 20-19 with 11 minutes left in the half.
Fresno, though, always seemed to respond.
Hyder connected on his third 3-pointer and Niven Hart had a free throw as the Bulldogs went up 24-19 with 9:46 to go. But a pair of threes by Johnson and Zouzoua (11 points at the half) gave the Pack its first lead of the game at 25-24 with 7:36 to go.
Drew and Harris each had 3-point plays as the Pack took a 33-28 lead with 4:34 to go. The Bulldogs, though, wouldn’t let the Pack run away and hide just yet. A 3-pointer by Hart and a layup by Anthony Holland tied the game at 33-33 with three minutes to go in the half. Another 3-pointer by Blackwell gave the Bulldogs a 36-35 lead with 2:17 to go and a jumper by Robinson put Fresno up 38-37 with 1:45 left.
Harris, who had 14 points in the first half and just six in the second half, gave the Pack a 40-38 lead with a 3-pointer with 1:25 left in the half. Hart, though, responded with his second 3-pointer of the half and Robinson drained a pair of free throws as the Bulldogs took a 43-40 lead just 15 seconds before halftime.
Drew, though, stole the ball from Hyder with five seconds to go and drew a foul with a second remaining. The senior made both of the free throws as the Pack went into its locker room down just 43-42.
The deficit was the Pack’s first at halftime in a home game since it trailed 40-35 at the break against USC on Nov. 16 in an eventual 76-66 loss. The Pack went nine consecutive games at Lawlor without trailing at the half.
The Wolf Pack and Bulldogs then spent the first eight minutes of the second half exchanging the lead four times and evening the score three times.
Layups by Drew and Robby Robinson and a Harris steal and dunk gave the Pack a 48-46 with 16 minutes to play.
Hart, who scored a team-high 18 points on four threes off the bench, kept Fresno State in the game. He drained a pair of free throws for a 45-44 Fresno lead and he also tied the game at 46-46 with another free throw. The 6-foot-5 freshman from Orlando, Fla., also connected on a 3-pointer for a 49-48 Fresno lead with 15:47 to play.
Hart’s three was quickly followed by a 3-pointer by Blackwell (12 points on four threes) as Fresno jumped out to a 52-48 lead with 15:10 left. A layup by Grimes gave Fresno a 54-51 lead and another 3-pointer by Hyder (15 points on four threes) put the Bulldogs up 57-54 with 12:52 to play.
Johnson and Zouzoua hit threes and Drew had a 3-point play to force a 57-57 tie with 12:34 left.
But the Bulldogs then controlled the next six minutes.
Blackwell assisted on another 3-pointer by Hart and a dunk by Orlando Robinson as the Bulldogs took a 62-57 lead with 10:47 left. Holland gave Fresno a 66-60 lead with a 3-pointer with 8:44 to go and Blackwell backed that up with another 3-pointer as Fresno went up 69-60 with 7:32 to play. The Bulldogs still led 71-62 after a Grimes layup with 6:45 to go.
But all that did was set the stage for yet another Wolf Pack comeback.
“This game was just like Colorado State (when the Pack lost 92-91 on a last-second 3-pointer by the Rams’ Isaiah Stevens on Jan. 29),” Alford said. “A month ago we lost that game. I didn’t like our energy in that game, too, like tonight. So at least tonight we were able to get the win.”
The Wolf Pack’s game-deciding 14-0 run was helped by Fresno State missing seven consecutive shots until a layup by Grimes cut the Pack lead to 76-73 with 2:21 to go.
A layup by Harris gave the Pack a 78-73 lead with 2:04 to go and proved to be the game-winning points. Fresno did slice the Pack lead to 78-76 on a three-point play by Hyder with 59 seconds to go but those were the only three points in the final two minutes of the game.
“The main thing is we won the game,” Zouzoua said. “That’s what is most important.”
The Wolf Pack has just two games remaining in the regular season, at Wyoming on Tuesday night and home against San Diego State on Feb. 29.
San Diego State, now 26-1 overall and 15-1 in the Mountain West, saw its undefeated season vanish Saturday night with a 66-63 loss to UNLV.
The Aztecs have already clinched the conference’s regular-season title. That leaves the Wolf Pack (11-5 in the Mountain West) fighting with Utah State (also 11-5), Boise State (10-6), UNLV (10-6) and Colorado State (10-6) for second place with two league games to play. Utah State owns the tiebreaker over the Pack because it beat Nevada 80-70 on Jan. 11 in the only meeting between the two teams this season.
“This game (against Fresno State) refocused us,” Drew said.