Basketball: Wolf Pack trudges to 12th-straight win
There was a definite Nevada energy shortage Tuesday night at Lawlor Events Center.
“We came out a little lackadaisical,” junior guard Malik Story said.
“We didn’t come out too ready to play,” senior center Dario Hunt added.
“They came out with high energy and we did not,” senior forward Olek Czyz said.
In the end, it didn’t matter. The Wolf Pack, now 15-3, never trailed over the final 36 minutes and cruised to an 81-69 victory over the Nebraska Omaha Mavericks for its 12th victory in a row.
“In the second half we picked it up,” Story said.
Nebraska Omaha (7-13), a team in the process of moving from Division II to Division I next season, has now lost 11 of 12 games this season against Division I teams. The Mavericks, though, took an 8-4 lead less than three minutes into the game against the unenthused Wolf Pack.
“Our guys were standing around too much,” coach David Carter said. “We were kind of walking through our offense. They (Omaha) were playing a sagging defense and weren’t allowing us to cut and we kind of bought into that and were playing way too slow offensively.”
Carter said he wasn’t surprised by his team’s lack of intensity.
“I kind of knew this was going to happen,” Carter said. “It’s hard to go from a conference game (the Pack is 4-0 in the Western Athletic Conference) to a non-conference game and expect the energy to be the same.”
The energy wasn’t the same. But the result — a victory — was very familiar to the Pack. The Pack has now won 15 of its last 16 games.
“It’s still a game that we had to win,” said Hunt , who had 14 points and 11 rebounds. “They all matter. We just needed to do a better job of coming out ready to go.”
The Pack, winners of 10 of 11 games this season at home, had just enough energy at just the right times to avoid an embarrassing upset.
The Wolf Pack, playing in front of just 3,407 fans, went on a 10-0 run to take a 14-8 lead with 14:39 left in the first half thanks to 3-pointers from Deonte Burton and Jerry Evans. The lead reached 10 (26-16) on a jumper by Czyz with 9:28 left in the half.
But the Mavericks wouldn’t go away easily. They pulled into a tie at 35-35 on a jumper by C.J. Carter with 1:43 left in the half before the Wolf Pack took a 39-35 lead at the intermission.
“They were playing up to the level of their competition,” said Czyz, who finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds. “Teams like that come into our house, see Nevada, and they pick up the intensity.”
That’s exactly what Carter told his team to do at halftime.
“I wasn’t worried,” Carter said. “I just wanted them to find more energy. It was all about the players. We just needed to play with more energy.”
It took a while for that second half energy to kick in. Omaha’s Carter drained a 3-pointer to cut the Pack’s lead to just 49-47 with 14:20 to play.
Enter Nevada energy.
The Pack went on a 12-0 run over the next four minutes to take a 61-47 lead. Story supplied most of the energy, scoring 10 of the 12 points in the run, including a pair of 3-pointers.
“You never want to give a team life like that,” said Story of the Pack’s slim 49-47 lead. “At that point we just wanted to put it on them.”
The Wolf Pack led by at least nine points the rest of the way. Another Story 3-pointer (he scored a game-high 20 points) gave the Pack a 64-49 lead with 8:21 to play and a lay-up by Hunt put the Pack up 76-61 with 2:51 left.
“I felt I let my teammates down in the first half,” said Story, who had seven points in the first 20 minutes. “I was playing too laid back on offense instead of being aggressive.”
Alex Welhouse cut the Pack’s lead to 76-67 with a 3-pointer with 2:24 to go. But four free throws by Patrick Nyeko down the stretch were enough to secure the Pack victory.
“We just started to play a lot faster on offense,” Story said. “And once we did that we got into our rhythm and they were scrambling a bit and that was to our advantage.”
The Wolf Pack will return to WAC play Saturday night at Lawlor against Fresno State. Carter isn’t worried that the non-league Omaha game will hurt the Pack’s WAC rhythm.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “The kids know Fresno State is going to come in here and play hard. They know it is a WAC game.”