St. Nick gives Nevada early Christmas present
Appeal Sports Writer
LAWRENCE, Kansas – Eight losses at home in the past 11 years. Suffice to say, beating Kansas at home is no easy task.
Nevada knew it, but was unfazed by the stat. They came to win and wipe out the embarrassment of last year’s 33-point setback.
It took a career-high 35 points by 6-11 junior forward Nick Fazekas, three clutch free throws by Mo Charlo in the final 32 seconds and a couple of clutch defensive plays by Kyle Shiloh to lead the 20th-ranked Wolf Pack past Kansas 72-70 before 16,300 Thursday night at Allen Fieldhouse.
With the crowd exhorting them on, the Jayhawks had an opportunity to steal a win from the Wolf Pack, who led 72-70 after Charlo hit one of two free throws with 6.9 showing on the clock.
Jeff Hawkins drove the lane, but was forced out by Shiloh. Hawkins managed to dump the ball inside to sophomore center C.J. Giles, whose game-tying shot appeared to be blocked by a couple of defenders, including Fazekas.
As the buzzer sounded, Nevada players celebrated and Kansas coach Bill Self stormed the floor and berated the officials.
Nevada coach Mark Fox wasn’t surprised at Kansas’ strategy, especially because the Jayhawks had run out of timeouts.
“I thought they would drive to the basket and tip it in if he missed,” Fox said. “Kyle (Shiloh) made a great play. He made two great plays in the last minute.”
Added Fazekas, “We actually thought Hawkins dribbled it out of bounds, and then C.J. got the rebound (actually pass). I think a few of us actually blocked it.”
Giles thought he got fouled.
“I felt some contact,” he said. “His hands were on my hands, but I don’t know if the officials could see it. If we had come out as tough as we did in the second half, we would have won the game. The last play wouldn’t have mattered.”
Self wasn’t happy with the final 45 seconds of the game.
“We tried to foul sooner and we did a poor job of not fouling,” Self said. “We let too many seconds go away because of this. We had a three-point play drawn up for Micah (Downs), but we ended up driving it due to we were only down by two. Jeff got the ball to C.J. at six inches , and it looked like he got fouled.”
Maybe. Maybe not. This was one for the books. It was Nevada’s 13th straight road win dating back to last season, and the third straight this year. Simply put, this was probably its biggest non-tournament road win at least in Fox’s six-year tenure at Nevada.
“I’m extremely proud of these kids,” Fox said. “After what happened a year ago, for them to come back and win I’m extremely proud. They made a lot of plays to win the game. We beat a very good basketball team.
“Regular season it was the best since I’ve been here. It’s a huge win. We hit some foul shots and that allowed us to keep the lead. We only had one three or four-minute bad stretch.”
That came midway through the second half when Kansas scored eight straight points to take a 52-50 lead with 8:33 remaining. Brandon Rush hit a runner down the lane, Sasha Kaun scored on a putback, Russell Robinson scored from the key and Kaun scored again.
And, then it was Fazekas to the rescue. Earlier in the second half, he drained a 3-pointer to stop a six-point Kansas run. He tied the game with two free throws and then gave Nevada a 54-52 lead with a putback.
Kansas went ahead 57-54 with 4:42 left, but Fazekas took a bullet pass from Ramon Sessions and scored. He was fouled on the play and sank the free throw, re-tying the game at 57. Session gave Nevada a 59-57 lead with two foul shots.
Kansas had no answer for Fazekas, who knocked down 13 of 21 from the floor and went 7 for 8 at the line. The rest of the team was a woeful 11 for 37 from the floor, including 3 of 14 from 3-point range.
“I felt good,” Fazekas said. “I took the UNLV game to heart. I just played bad against UNLV and I wasn’t going to come out here and do it again. I just felt really determined to come out here and do my thing. They were sending double teams at me. I tried to make them not effective and just shoot the other way.”
The post-game accolades poured in from both sides on his play.
“He picked us up once again,” said Charlo, who finished with 12 points and seven rebounds.
“They had a great player tonight,” Self said. “He was better than anyone on the floor tonight by a long ways. We knew that and we did not have a guy that could guard a player like that.”
Self said that Kansas’ slow start was a major reason why Nevada won the game.
Nevada scored 12 of the game’s first 18 points, and then went on a 15-8 run over the final five-plus minutes to take a 35-27 lead at the intermission.
Marcelus Kemp, who was a frigid 3 for 12, including 0 for 5 from beyond the arc, triggered the burst with a jump shot from the top of the key. Fazekas followed with five straight points, including a three-point play, to make it 27-19. Kaun ended the Nevada run with a layup with 3:12 left. A 3-pointer by Charlo, his only one of the game, made it 31-23. Two free throws by Kaun cut the lead to 31-25, but Demarshay Johnson scored two quick hoops to extend the lead to 10.
“The reason we lost the game is because we didn’t come out individually ready to play early in the game as we should have,” Self said. “We made so many silly plays, and it was just a mess in transition. It was just one bonafide mental mistake early in the game, and the next thing you know, you’re behind the eight ball. We were fighting from behind all night long.
“We took the lead and were shooting free throws. We came up empty, but Nevada is a good ballclub. We were a good ballclub in the second half. Our guys made a lot of good plays down the stretch and they made a lot of good plays as well.”
Those big plays were free throws. Nevada made 13 of 15 in the final 4 1/2 minutes.
“We were able to make free throws to keep our lead,” Fox said. “We played in front, and that’s the better way to play. It certainly beats the alternative.”