The Nevada Wolf Pack thought they were going to be in for a little pre-Thanksgiving feast with the Longwood Lancers in town Tuesday night at Lawlor Events Center.
It turns out they were almost the main course.
"They never went away," Pack guard Malik Story said. "They just kept running their plays no matter what we did, no matter how loud the crowd got. They just kept going at us."
The Wolf Pack saw a 15-point second-half lead disappear but found a way to hold on for a 80-78 victory over the never-say-die Lancers in front of 2,656 fans.
"This is a game we wouldn't have won last year," Pack forward Jerry Evans said. "We showed maturity. We grew up from last year. We believe in each other."
The Wolf Pack took a 59-44 lead with 12:12 to play on a 3-pointer by Kevin Panzer off the bench.
Longwood, though, went on a 20-4 run over the next 7:15 to take a surprising 64-63 lead with just under five minutes left.
"They are a very good team," Pack coach David Carter said of Longwood. "They have five seniors and they had a very good point guard. We knew they would be poised. It was hard to rattle them."
The Lancers' comeback, though, also didn't rattle the Wolf Pack.
"It was time for our poise to come into play," Evans said. "We stayed calm."
Story, who scored a game-high 28 points, hit a momentum-changing 3-pointer for a 66-64 Pack lead with 4:42 to play.
"We were down by one and Malik came in and he shot with confidence," Carter said. "Last year you might have seen a more deer-in-the-headlights look from our guys. This year we have more confidence."
The Pack broke a 66-66 tie with a 7-0 run that was capped off by a rim-rattling dunk by Dario Hunt off a lob feed from Burton with 1:32 to play.
Another Hunt dunk, off a pass from Olek Czyz, gave the Pack a seemingly safe 80-75 lead with 14 seconds to play. But Longwood's David Robinson drained a 3-pointer to cut the Pack lead to 80-78 with seven seconds to go and Burton missed a pair of free throws with four seconds left to give the Lancers one final shot at the upset.
"I was just thinking, 'Don't go in,'" said Burton of a last-second 3-point attempt by Tristan Carey.
Evans guarded Carey down the right side of the court.
"I just wanted to make him shoot from as far out as possible," Evans said. "I was scared a little. It looked good."
Carey's shot ended up hitting the front of the rim as the final buzzer sounded, giving the Pack its third victory in a row after two losses.
"I think we handled it well today," said Burton, who had 14 points and six assists.
Burton was 8-for-8 from the free throw line until his two misses with four seconds left.
"They felt good when I released them," he said.
Story could say the same thing all night long. The muscular 6-foot-5 guard was 7-of-10 from 3-point range.
"They left me open a lot," Story said. "There was nobody on me. And once I got my rhythm, I kept going. This was the first game this year I've felt that comfortable."
Story hit four 3-pointers in a span of 9:26 as the Pack broke a 14-14 tie to take a 33-23 lead with 5:10 to play in the first half. His fifth 3-pointer of the first half gave the Pack a 38-32 lead just 28 seconds before the intermission.
"I was surprised I was so wide open," Story said. "I just felt like everything was going to go in. They just stayed in a zone and kept rotating like normal and I was open."
"We had to have someone step up and he did," Carter said.
The Pack, which shot just 38% from the field through its first four games, shot 50% (26-of-52) against the Lancers. They were also 10-of-25 (40%) on 3-pointers despite Burton missing all five of his shots from beyond the arc.
"When Malik is hitting his shots everything falls into place for us," Carter said. "Things open up inside for Dario and Olek and everyone just has more confidence."
Everyone in the gym could tell that Story had raised his confidence on Tuesday.
"Ever since I was little I've been sticking my tongue out when I shoot," Story said. "I was feeling it tonight so I guess I was sticking it out a little more."
The game against Longwood, as well as the Pack's 60-47 victory over Prairie View on Sunday, was part of the Chicago Invitational. The Pack will now head to just outside Chicago to face BYU on Friday and either Bradley or Wisconsin on Saturday to complete their four-game Chicago Invitational schedule.
The Wolf Pack will return to Lawlor Events Center on Dec. 2 to face Washington.