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Wolf Pack devour Vermont

Nevada Appeal Staff Reports

By DARRELL MOODY

Nevada Appeal News Service

RENO – Garry Hill-Thomas and Sean Paul scored only eight points between them, but you can’t minimize their importance in the University of Nevada’s season-opening victory.

Hill-Thomas and Paul put the clamps on Vermont’s two best players – T.J. Sorrentine and Taylor Coppenrath – to spark the Wolf Pack to an easy 69-49 victory over Vermont in men’s basketball in the opening round of the Preseason National Invitation Tournament Monday night at Lawlor Events Center.

The victory sends the Wolf Pack into the quarterfinals on Wednesday against top-ranked Connecticut at 4 p.m. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN.

Sorrentine was held to only one field goal and seven points, and Coppenrath scored 19, but was a horrendous 8 for 21 from the field.

“They are two pretty good basketball players,” Nevada coach Trent Johnson said, referring to Sorrentine and Coppenrath. “Coppenrath is a heck of a player, and Sean made him work. I thought Sean played him tough. Garry did a good job at the point of attack and staying in front of him (Sorrentine). He did a good job of making him work extremely hard.

“I thought we played well. I thought our shot selection was good. I thought we had a size and quickness advantage inside, and when you have that there is no reason why you can’t execute in the half court.”

Hill-Thomas said Johnson challenged him during a rugged week of practice.

“I knew it (his defense) wouldn’t determine who won or lost the game, but that it would be a big factor. The coaches had us ready to play tonight.

“You’ve got to work harder than they’re working or it will never work. My coaches had prepared me for what was coming. I guarded coach Carter (David, assistant coach) all week.”

The Wolf Pack held Vermont to 37.5 percent from the floor, 33.3 in the second half. Vermont didn’t get many open looks at the basket, and Coppenrath was the only Catamounts player to be aggressive at the offensive end.

Nevada’s outstanding defense enabled it to run the floor and get several easy transition baskets in the opening half.

Leading 15-12 with 13:04 left in the half, the Wolf Pack went on a 20-2 run to take a 35-14 lead with 3:11 left. The offense came from five different players.

Kirk Snyder, who led the Wolf Pack scoring with 17 points, started an 11-0 run with a three-pointer from the left side. Point guard Todd Okeson knocked down a free throw and added a pretty reverse layin, and Dean Browne (8 points, 6 rebounds) scored on a putback. Kevinn Pinkney added a free throw and putback to complete the surge.

Coppenrath broke the six-minute drought with a fadeaway, but Nevada countered with a 9-0 run. Snyder got a putback and then hit from the corner. After Okeson blocked a shot, Marcelus Kemp scored on a layup. Vermont went scoreless on its next three trips down the floor, and Kemp banged home a three-pointer to complete the surge.

“It all started with defense,” Okeson said. “We got into transition and that led to some fast-break points.”

Vermont put together an 8-2 run to narrow the deficit to 38-22, as Nevada got a little careless on its shot selection. Okeson ended the half with a nice transition three-pointer from the left side of the floor.

Nevada wasn’t quite as effective offensively in the second half, shooting 44 percent compared to 49 in the first 20 minutes.

Back-to-back baskets by Browne gave Nevada a 54-33 lead with 11:43 left in the game, and Jermaine Washington’s layup made it 56-33, which was the largest lead of the night.

Vermont put together a 9-2 run to make it 58-42, as Alex Jensen knocked down a three-pointer and two free throws, and Coppenrath added a bucket and two free throws.

Again, Nevada had an answer, going on a 9-2 run for a 67-44 lead with 2:41 left in the game. Snyder hit from the top of the key, Paul scored his only basket of the game and Okeson added two free throws.

“Simply put, they were the better team tonight,” said Vermont coach Tom Brennan. “Obviously we can learn from a game like that.

“The best thing was that we didn’t quit. I saw a lot of good things out of our team tonight.”

Notes: Nevada had a 15-7 edge on the offensive boards, and its athleticism and leaping ability showed several times. Brown and Pinkney had four offesnive rebounds apiece… Okeson finished with 11 points, nine assists and only one turnover, and Kemp finishd with 10 points… The Wolf Pack announced it has signed 6-4 shooting guard Kevyn Green, the younger brother of ex-Wolf Pack star Terrance Green. Once he meets academic requirements, Green could enroll at Nevada in January. Green is the second early signee by the Wolf Pack. David Ellis, a 7-footer from Capital Christian in Sacramento, Calif., signed last week.