RENO — The night before Halloween was one big treat for the Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball team.
“It’s going to be a growing process for us,” said Eric Musselman, who made his Wolf Pack coaching debut with an 82-52 exhibition victory over the Dominican Penguins on Friday night in front of a crowd of 2,139 at Lawlor Events Center. “But we’re going to get better.”
The Wolf Pack clearly got better from the first half to the second half against the Division II Penguins, winning the last 20 minutes, 45-25.
“I think we just had first-half jitters,” freshman point guard Lindsey Drew said. “In the second half everybody just got used to the game and you saw the results.”
Drew was the only new starter from a year ago and responded with 13 points, six rebounds, two blocks, two steals and two assists in a game-high 30 minutes.
“Before the game everybody was asking me if I was nervous and I always just said, “Not really,’” Drew said. “But once the ball went up to start the game the butterflies hit me, like immediately.”
The Wolf Pack, butterflies and all, struggled in the first half, missing all six of their 3-pointers and 18-of-25 field goal attempts. The Pack led comfortably 37-27 at the break but Dominican took a 19-17 advantage with 7:11 to go in the first half after a 3-pointer by Reverend Maduacor.
“Everybody was nervous at the start, jitters and butterflies,” said freshman forward Cameron Oliver, who had 11 points, six rebounds and three blocks in 17 minutes. “But in the second half we adjusted to it.”
The adjustments actually started right after Maduacor’s 3-pointer. The Pack dominated the final 27 minutes of the game, outscoring the Penguins 63-35.
“The first 20 minutes guys were a little nervous,” Musselman said. “But I was real proud of the last 20 minutes of the game. I thought we played hard the whole game. Our pace was real good. And that will get better.”
The Wolf Pack won the game at the free throw line, making 41-of-50. Dominican, which didn’t have a player taller than the 6-foot-7 Brad Johnson (two points, one rebound in 23 minutes) was just 11-of-18 from the free throw line. The Pack was 23-of-28 from the line in the first half and 18-of-22 in the second half. The Wolf Pack scored all 37 of its first half points on free throws, dunks and lay-ups.
“Getting to the line that many times, we feel that’s a big strength of ours,” Musselman said.
A few old weaknesses also returned. The Pack shot just 37 percent for the game and just 28 percent (7-of-25) in the first half. They also were just 1-of-13 on 3-pointers for the game. Eric Cooper missed all five of his 3-pointers, Marqueze Coleman was 0-for-4 and Drew was 0-for-3. D.J. Fenner (11 points in 18 minutes) was the only Pack player to connect on a 3-pointer (1-for-1). “I’ve seen a lot of basketball games,” Musselman said. “I have never seen a team shoot 1-for-13 (on threes) and score 82 points.”
The Pack pulled away from the Penguins in the final five-plus minutes. Dominican trailed just 44-38 after a lay-up by Maduacor (nine points) but the Pack outscored the Penguins 38-14 over the final 15:13. A 3-point play by Tyron Criswell (game-high 18 points) started the run. The Pack closed the game on a 10-0 run over the final 3:29 as Fenner scored six points.
The Wolf Pack dominated the shorter Penguins in the paint with the 6-foot-9 A.J. West and the 6-8 Oliver. West had eight points (all from the free throw line) and 12 rebounds in 18 minutes. Oliver had a short jumper for a 52-39 lead with 10 minutes to go, a dunk for a 59-43 lead with 7:51 left, a short jumper for a 65-47 lead with 6:24 to go and another dunk for a 70-47 lead with 5:07 remaining.
“That first dunk I got really helped me,” said Oliver of his first two dunks with 3:37 to go in the fist half. “I can’t believe Lindsey (Drew) even saw me on that one. That really helped me with my nerves.”
Musselman was especially pleased the Pack upped their shooting percentage nearly 17 percent from the first half to the second half.
“I think we started to make that one more pass that turned good shots into great shots,” Musselman said.
Musselman also singled out 6-7 sophomore forward Elijah Foster (six points, nine rebounds in 15 minutes) and 6-foot freshman guard Juwan Anderson (four assists, no points in 18 minutes).
“If you look at his stats it might not look like it but Juwan Anderson had a big impact on the game,” Musselman said. “And Elijah Foster was phenomenal in his minutes. If I had to do this game all over again I would have played Elijah more minutes.”
The Wolf Pack will play another exhibition game on Nov. 6 at Lawlor Events Center against Alaska-Fairbanks before opening the regular season Nov. 13-17 with three games in the Outrigger Resorts Rainbow Classic in Honolulu against Coastal Carolina, Montana State and Hawaii.
“The guys are doing everything we’ve asked,” Musselman said.
“I feel like we can still turn it up a notch,” Drew said.