Wolf Pack tramples Fresno Pacific
RENO – Home is definitely where the victories are this season for the Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball team.
“It feels good to be back home and playing in front of our fans,” said guard Armon Johnson, whose game-high 19 points led the Wolf Pack to an easy 89-67 victory over the Fresno Pacific Sunbirds at Lawlor Events Center Tuesday night. “This whole team loves playing at home.”
The Pack, now 3-4, snapped a three-game losing streak in front of a crowd of 3,778 and remained unbeaten at home at 3-0.
“It’s just nice to get the support and feel comfortable,” said forward Luke Babbitt, who finished with 16 points. “This is the same place we practice everyday, our fans are there to support us, you get to go back home or to your dorm room. All those things factor into it.”
Another factor is that the Pack’s road schedule has been much more of a challenge than what they’ve faced at home this year. The Pack has lost on the road at Virginia Commonwealth, North Carolina, UNLV and Pacific. The home victories have come against Montana State, Houston and the NAIA Sunbirds.
“We know we have to take care of business at home because it is so tough to win on the road, as we’ve seen,” Carter said.
The Pack’s next three games are all at home and are also against teams they will be expected to beat – South Dakota State on Saturday, Eastern Washington on Dec. 17 and Wagner on Dec. 19.
“That’s one of the hardest things in competition, to play a team that you are probably better at in all five positions on the floor,” Pack coach David Carter said. “The key is to keep motivated and focused and not to get complacent. It is a very difficult thing to do but it’s all part of competition.”
The Wolf Pack opened the game with a pair of 3-pointers by Joey Shaw in the first two minutes and never looked back.
“I didn’t think we had a great rhythm (the Pack led just 20-15 with 12:30 to go in the opening half) to start the game but we picked it up,” Carter said.
The Pack went on a 14-2 run that started and ended with layups by Dario Hunt. Johnson also scored six points during the run, helping the Pack take a 34-17 lead with 8:23 to go in the first half.
“When you play at home, the kids just feel more comfortable,” Carter said. “And when you feel comfortable, you play with more confidence. That’s the type of confidence we’re going to need once we start playing (Western Athletic Conference) games.”
Johnson and Babbitt combined to score 31 points in the opening half as the Pack took a 56-35 lead at the intermission. The two former Northern Nevada prep standouts, though, combined to score just four points in the second half as the bench took over.
All 11 players on the Wolf Pack roster played at least eight minutes and all but one (Keith Fuetsch) scored. Fuetsch, a freshman from Bishop Manogue, contributed two rebounds, a steal and an assist in his eight minutes.
“It’s very enjoyable to see everybody get out there and show what they can do,” said Johnson, who played just six minutes in the second half (Babbitt played seven).
Bench players Adam Carp (11 minutes), Marko Cukic (18), Fuetsch (8), London Giles (16) and Patrick Nyeko (17) all set personal season highs for minutes played this season.
For Nyeko, a freshman from Seattle, it was his first action of the season. The 6-foot-6 guard finished with six points and four rebounds.
“I thought he was going to be more nervous than he was,” Carter smiled.
“I really wasn’t nervous at all,” Nyeko said. “I love to play this game and I’ve been working hard everyday in practice, trying to learn as much as I can.”
Carter was also happy to see Giles finally break into the points column. The sophomore guard had not scored in 33 minutes of action (0-for-11 from the field) through the first six games. He finished with four points against the Sunbirds for the second highest total (he had 8 against Arkansas-Pine Bluff last year) in his 25-game Pack career.
“London played with a lot more confidence,” Carter said. “We need all those (bench) guys to play with more confidence.”
The top priority, though, was just to break the Pack’s longest losing streak since another three-game slide Nov. 24 through Dec. 1, 2007 against UNLV, California and Pacific. The Pack also avoided its first four-game losing streak since February 2001 under coach Trent Johnson.
“Winning this game was huge,” Carter said. “We didn’t play perfect basketball but this was big just to get that good feeling inside again. Hopefully this is the start of something special.”