RENO — The Fremont Cannon might still be down in Las Vegas but the best college basketball team in Nevada resides in Northern Nevada.
The Nevada Wolf Pack strolled to an 89-73 victory over the Rebels in front of a crowd of 11,289 at Lawlor Events Center on Wednesday night for its fourth consecutive victory in the Silver State rivalry. The Pack has also won 10 of its last 14 games against the Rebels over the last six seasons.
“This was much bigger than just a game,” said Wolf Pack senior Caleb Martin, who had a game-high 24 points on six 3-pointers. “It means so much to our fans, our community and our alumni. We wanted to win this for them.”
The eighth largest Wolf Pack crowd at Lawlor Events Center witnessed the retirement of former player (2004-07) Nick Fazekas’ No. 22 jersey at halftime and saw the No. 12 Wolf Pack improve to 26-2 overall and a Mountain West-best 13-2. The Rebels fell to 15-13, 9-7.
“This is a big rivalry,” senior Jordan Caroline said. “When I sat out that year (2015-16) I couldn’t wait to play in this game.”
Martin was part of a three-headed monster that simply overwhelmed the Rebels. Cody Martin added 23 points on a career-high four 3-pointers and Caroline added 20 points and 12 rebounds for his 46th career double-double. The only other time this season that the Pack has had three players score 20 or more points in a game was against Tulsa in the fifth game of the season when Caroline scored 25, Caleb Martin had 21 and Jazz Johnson added 20.
Both Martins have now scored 20 or more points in the same game three times this year and five times in their two-year Pack careers. The twins also did it at UNLV last year with Cody scoring 24 and Caleb adding 21.
“Our big three played great,” said Wolf Pack coach Eric Musselman of the 67 points, 19 rebounds, 14 assists and 12 3-pointers combined by the Martins and Caroline. “And when our big three are really good we’re a phenomenal basketball team.”
“All three of us tried to come out and play the right way from the get-go,” Caroline said. “We know how much this game means to our community and to the state.”
This game, much like the Pack’s 87-70 win over the Rebels in Las Vegas on Jan. 29, was never in doubt right from the start. The Pack led for all but 37 seconds of the game on Wednesday and never trailed.
“Our community, our fans have done a great job giving us energy,” Cody Martin said. “That energy in the arena is a big reason why we win. It takes us a long way.”
The Wolf Pack, which took a 48-26 halftime lead last month in Las Vegas, led the Rebels 46-28 in the rematch. The big three led the way with all three scoring exactly 13 points.
Cody Martin, who scored just 12 points over the Pack’s last two games, had 13 in the first 12 minutes against the Rebels as the Pack opened up a 28-15 lead. The Pack point guard had three threes in the first half, two coming in the first two minutes of the game. His third three gave the Pack a 26-15 lead with 8:35 to go in the half.
“I tell him all the time to be aggressive like that,” Caleb Martin said. “I tell him, ‘You need to score. You need to shoot the ball.’”
“What he did is not a surprise,” said Musselman, who is now 7-2 against UNLV. “He has great shot selection. He doesn’t rush his shot.”
Cody Martin was 8-of-14 from the floor and 4-of-6 on threes for the game. The 14 shot attempts equals his season high and his 23 points are his most since he scored 25 against Cincinnati in the NCAA tournament last March.
“Nobody is telling him not to shoot,” Caleb Martin said. “So if he doesn’t shoot, it’s on him. He can do this night in and night out if he wants to.”
Caroline and Caleb Martin took care of the Pack scoring over the final eight minutes of the first half. Caroline, who was 5-of-10 from the floor in the first half and 8-of-17 for the game, scored on a short jumper in the lane and on a 3-pointer from the left elbow less than a minute apart as the Pack took a 38-23 lead with 3:45 left in the half.
Caleb Martin, who also had three threes in the first half, scored from the left baseline and on a 3-pointer about 90 seconds apart as the Pack took a 43-28 lead with 1:28 left before the break. He then added a 3-pointer to close out the scoring with 31 seconds to go.
“I think me being aggressive (on offense) kind of opened things up for everybody else,” Cody Martin said. “I think they (opposing teams) rather that I shoot it. So if they let me have it, it’s cool with me.”
The Rebels simply couldn’t generate any momentum in the first half. UNLV only scored back-to-back baskets in the first 20 minutes once, on an Amauri Hardy lay-up with 2:28 to go and a 3-pointer by Noah Robotham with 1:48 left to cut the Pack lead to 40-28.
UNLV turned the ball over 11 times and shot just 11-of-32 (34 per cent) from the floor and 3-of-12 (25 per cent) on threes in the first half. The Pack was red-hot, shooting 16-of-30 (53 per cent) from the floor and 7-of-15 (47 per cent) on threes. The Pack also was 16-of-30 from the floor in the second half.
“We wrote on our dry erase board before the game, ‘Attack, attack, attack,”’ Musselman said. “We want those three (the Martins and Caroline) guys every night to have an attack mentality.”
The Wolf Pack also dominated the first 10 minutes of the second half, taking a 67-48 lead. Caleb Martin had a pair of threes two minutes apart for a 59-41 lead with 14 minutes to go and Tre’Shawn Thurman who had just two points in the first half, scored six consecutive Wolf Pack points for a 65-46 lead with 11:41 to go.
UNLV, which still leads the rivalry 60-29 thanks to a 38-4 stretch from 1966-94, did make things mildly interesting, going on a 9-1 run to cut the Pack lead to 68-57 with eight minutes to go. Hardy had a pair of threes in the Rebel run and Kris Clyburn had a 3-point play.
That was as close as the Rebels would get the rest of the way as the teams traded baskets for much of the final eight minutes. Caleb Martin’s sixth 3-pointer of the game gave the Pack a 71-57 lead with 7:41 to go and a 3-pointer by Cody Martin made it 74-60 with just under six minutes left.
Cody Martin then connected on a short jumper and converted a three-point play for a 79-64 lead with 4:28 remaining.
UNLV also had a big three as Clyburn (18 points), Hardy (19 points) and Robot ham (16) combined for 53 points. The three, though, also combined for 10 turnovers as the Rebels committed 17 for the game.
“The offense was phenomenal,” Musselman said.
The entire night went as planned for the Pack, from the large crowd that jammed into the arena to Fazekas’ halftime ceremony to the final score.
“I went out to lunch about six and a half hours before the game and there were students lined up,” Musselman said. “A lot of people couldn’t get in the building (because of a lack of available tickets). That’s a pretty cool thing.
“But I think we could have played anybody and not just UNLV and had a sold out arena. That’s how much our players mean to this community.”
The Wolf Pack, winners of 17 in a row at home, now goes on the road at Utah State (Saturday) and Air Force (Tuesday) before returning home for the final regular season game on March 9 against San Diego State. A victory over San Diego State would give the Pack its first unbeaten home season since 2003-04 (15-0).