As far as the Nevada Wolf Pack is concerned, the men's basketball season started Thursday night.
"This is kind of our fresh start," said senior Olek Czyz after the Wolf Pack's 78-54 victory over the Pacific Tigers at Lawlor Events Center. "We showed what we got."
The Wolf Pack's first victory of the season in front of 4,016 fans clearly wiped away some of the disappointment of the first two losses to Missouri State and UNLV.
"Everybody finally came together," junior Malik Story said. "This is what we're capable of."
Czyz, who was 0-for-6 from the field in the first two games combined, converted 7-of-9 shots and scored 17 points. The Reno High graduate scored the Pack's first six points of the game and had 15 by halftime.
"This definitely helped get the rust off," said Czyz, who added five rebounds as well as an assist and a steal.
Czyz not only shook off the rust. He also sported a clean-shaven look for the first time this year.
"Look like a bum, play like a bum," smiled Czyz.
Czyz started and ended the first half strong.
The power forward had three lay-ups in the first 3:31 for a 6-3 lead and then had two lay-ups and a 3-pointer in the final two minutes of the half as the Pack took a 49-20 lead at the intermission.
"I felt like myself out there," Czyz said.
The Wolf Pack seemed to feed off Czyz in the opening half. Story also started strong, scoring a dozen points by halftime as the Pack was 18-of-26 (69.2%) from the floor in the first 20 minutes.
"We shot almost 70 percent," Pack coach David Carter said. "That was an outstanding first half."
The 18 field goals and 49 points in the opening half were more than the Pack had for the entire game in its season-opening 68-46 loss on 13 field goals to Missouri State at Lawlor last Friday night.
"We came out sharp," said Carter, who is now back over .500 (35-34) in his career as the Pack head coach. "The key was hitting those shots early."
The Wolf Pack, which lost to Pacific 64-53 last November, led by double digits over the final 27:22 and by at least 20 the entire second half.
"We never lost our confidence even after those first two games," Carter said. "We knew our shots would fall eventually."
The Pack shot 58.3 % from the field after shooting just 29.4 % over the first two games.
"This gives us a lot of confidence," said Story, who was 6-of-7 from the field.
Kevin Panzer also played well again off the bench, scoring 11 points in just 15 minutes on 4-of-8 shooting. Panzer's seven consecutive points on two 3-pointers and a free throw in a span of just under two minutes gave the Pack a 15-8 lead with 12:44 to play in the first half.
"Those first two games were a learning lesson for us," said Panzer, who has 28 points in 58 minutes this year. "We learned from those two games and came out and played well."
Carter thought a key to the easy victory was the Pack's intensity in the second half despite the big lead. The Wolf Pack got 3-pointers from Jerry Evans and Story in the first two minutes of the half as the lead quickly reached 58-24.
"We knew we couldn't look at the scoreboard," Story said. "We came out and played like it was 0-0 and we didn't take the lead for granted."
Pacific did slice the Pack's lead to 20 (64-44) on a jumper by Ross Rivera with 7:29 to play after trailing by as much as 36 (60-24). But 3-pointers by Deonte Burton and Jordan Burris just 22 seconds apart gave the Pack a commanding 76-48 lead with 3:11 to play.
"That's our next step in our growing process," Carter said. "We need to treat every possession like we are up by just one or two points."
Pacific (1-1), which played 15 players in the one-sided loss, shot just 31.3 % and missed 20-of-27 3-pointers. The 24-point loss was Pacific's biggest to Nevada since a 29-point defeat (83-54) on Dec. 7, 2002. Pacific had won four in a row and 12 of its last 16 games against the Pack.
"The difference tonight was that we made our shots," Carter said. "We got the same shots in the first two games but just didn't make them. The way we played and the way we shot the ball, it didn't matter who we played. We would have made those shots no matter who we played."
The Wolf Pack will host Prairie View A&M on Sunday (3:05 p.m.) and Longwood on Tuesday (7:05 p.m.) at Lawlor Events Center.