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Wolf Pack grinds out New Year’s day win over Colorado State

Joe Santoro
For the Nevada Appeal

RENO — The Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball team enjoyed a New Year’s party Wednesday night, beating the Colorado State Rams 67-61 in front of a crowd of 8,659 at Lawlor Events Center.

“Our guys continue to learn,” said coach Steve Alford, whose Wolf Pack improved to 9-5 overall and 2-0 in the Mountain West. “I was not pleased with what we did in the second half but a win in any league is very difficult.”

The Pack led by double digits for the final six minutes of the first half and the first 15 minutes of the second half but had to hold off the Rams in the end. Colorado State went on a 9-0 run to cut the Pack lead to just 61-56 with 2:32 to play.

“We relaxed a little bit in the second half and they (the Rams) made a game of it,” Alford said. “You know, its not a 20-minute game. It’s a 40-minute game and that’s just something we are going to have to learn.”

The Wolf Pack led 39-25 at halftime and then saw Colorado State win the second half, 36-28. Freshman Zane Meeks’ performance mirrored that of the entire Wolf Pack team overall. The 6-foot-10 Meeks had 14 points at halftime on four threes but then went scoreless in the second half.

“At halftime I told him (Meeks), ‘What do you think they (the Rams) are talking about down the hall in their locker room?’” Alford said. “‘They are talking about you. So you can’t shut it down mentally.’ But he’s never had 14 points at halftime before. It’s something he had to learn how to handle.”

Meeks only took one shot in 10 second half minutes after going 5-of-8 overall from the floor in 14 first-half minutes.

“They (Colorado State) definitely came out in the second half with a game plan for me,” Meeks said. “They were more keyed on me. I didn’t do a great job of moving. I kind of got stagnant.”

A jumper by Jazz Johnson with 1:32 to go and a layup by Harris with 46 seconds to play were enough to hold off the Rams. Harris scored 15 of his game-high 20 points in the second half.

“I just think that sometimes when we get a big lead we kind of not lock in for a possession here and a possession there,” said Harris, who also had seven rebounds and four assists. “We need to start locking in for 40 minutes.”

The Wolf Pack, which whipped Colorado State 100-60 late last January at Lawlor Events Center, now has an eight-game winning streak against the Rams. Colorado State fell to 9-7, 0-3.

“In the end we won and that’s what matters,” Meeks said.

Meeks was the difference in the first half as the Pack took a 39-25 lead at the break. The 6-foot-10 freshman exploded for eight points off the bench in a span of just 63 seconds to give the Pack a 10-4 lead with 14:27 left in the half. He hit a three from the left elbow and from the top of the circle and had a lay-up off a miss from Lindsey Drew.

Meeks, whose high game this year is 16 points against Santa Clara on Dec. 4, has now scored in double figures in six of his last eight games. He connected on a 3-pointer from the left elbow for a 15-8 Pack lead with 11 minutes left in the half and six minutes later he hit a three from the right corner for a 28-15 lead.

Meeks carried the offense in the first half. The rest of the Wolf Pack, though, combined to go 2-of-7 on threes and 9-of-26 from the floor overall. Johnson was 2-of-10 from the floor, 0-for-4 on threes in the first half and finished the game 4-of-16 from the floor and 1-of-6 on threes for nine points.

Nisre Zouzoua scored eight of his 10 points in the first half with five coming from the free throw line. Harris took just four shots in the first half and scored five points. His 3-pointer gave the Pack a 23-10 lead with just under nine minutes to go in the half. Drew, who had six assists, scored six of his eight points in the first half, including a lay-up at the halftime buzzer.

Colorado State, which hasn’t beaten the Wolf Pack since Feb. 6, 2016 (76-67 in Colorado), never found any offensive rhythm until late in the game. The Rams were just 8-of-26 from the floor (31 percent) and 2-of-8 on threes in the first half and finished 22-of-58 (38 percent) overall and 5-of-15 on threes.

“I thought we were very good defensively in the first half” Alford said.

The Rams’ David Roddy (17 points) and Nico Carvacho (13) combined to score 23 points in the second half after combining for just seven in the first half.

“Roddy kind of got away from us in the second half,” Alford said.

Carvacho finished with 13 points and nine rebounds, just missing his 42nd career double double. The 6-11 senior is just four double doubles away from the Wolf Pack’s Jordan Caroline for the Mountain West career record of 45. Carvacho, who had nine points and six rebounds in the second half, already owns the conference record with 1,115 career rebounds. Caroline is second at 958.

“I love his motor,” said Alford of Carvacho. “He always plays hard. We kind of took him out of it in the first half because we helped well (on defense) and challenged his shots.”

Harris found his offense in the second half.

The 6-5 junior, who was averaging 17.2 points a game going into Wednesday night, hit his second and third 3-pointers of the game in the first five minutes of the second half, giving the Pack a 42-28 lead two minutes into the half and 49-33 with 15:43 to go.

Harris scored seven consecutive Pack points for a 61-47 Pack lead with just over five minutes to play. His jumper put the Pack up 56-39 with just under nine minutes to play and his dunk made it 58-42 with 7:17 left. Harris then added a short jumper for a 60-47 lead with 5:53 to go and a free throw to make it 61-47 with 5:14 left.

The Wolf Pack shot 42 percent (25-of-60) for the game but got to the free throw line just nine times, making eight.

“We need to be better drivers and we need to get it into the post more,” Alford said. “When we don’t get to the free throw line that just puts too much stress on our offense. We have to do a better job of that.”

The Wolf Pack will host Boise State at Lawlor Events Center on Saturday afternoon (3 p.m.).