Basketball: Wolf Pack wins on last-second shot
The author of one of the most improbable, unlikely and indescribable shots in recent Nevada Wolf Pack basketball history had no idea what he had just accomplished.
“I didn’t see it go in, to be honest,” smiled Wolf Pack guard Deonte Burton. “I was ready to go back on defense. But then I heard the crowd react.”
The largest Lawlor Events Center basketball crowd in over three years (9,988) erupted in unison as Burton’s wild 3-pointer with 11 seconds to play gave the Wolf Pack a 53-52 victory over the Utah State Aggies on Thursday night.
“It was a lucky shot,” said Burton, who landed forward on his chest as the ball fell through the basket. “I had confidence but it was lucky it went down.”
It was lucky and historic.
Burton’s prayer of a shot gave the Wolf Pack its 16th consecutive victory, equaling the longest winning streak in school history that was set in 1965-66.
“I’ve seen Deonte make those shots all the time in practice,” smiled junior guard Malik Story.
Don’t believe him.
“That was one of the luckiest shots I’ve ever seen,” senior center Dario Hunt said. “But I’ll take it any day.”
With the Pack trailing 52-50, Burton leaned into and under Utah State’s Preston Medlin just to the right of the top of the 3-point circle.
“I think he was trying to get fouled,” Wolf Pack coach David Carter said.
“I did get fouled,” Burton said without hesitation.
No foul was called.
“I thought he got fouled a little bit,” Carter said. “I understand they don’t want to call a foul in that situation. But when it went in, I was happy.”
The Pack, winners of 18 of their last 19 games, are now 19-3 overall and 8-0 in the Western Athletic Conference. Utah State, which has won the last four WAC regular season titles, fell to 12-11 and 4-4.
“Sometimes you have to be lucky,” Carter said.
Neither team had much luck or success until Burton’s shot. The Wolf Pack led just 19-18 at halftime in the lowest scoring first half in a Pack game this season.
“They were controlling the tempo and we had no tempo at all,” Carter said.
Both teams combined to miss 38-of-54 shots from the field, 14-of-16 3-pointers and six of nine free throws in the first half.
“Our offense was stagnating,” said Burton, who was 0-for-7 from the field and didn’t score in the first half. “We were standing around too much, not enough movement.”
“Our offense didn’t click that well,” said Story, who scored 10 of the Pack’s 18 first-half points.
“It was a fun game to play in but it was hard on offense.”
Carter was happy to get to the halftime locker room with a slim lead.
“They had a great game plan on defense,” said Carter of Utah State. “But we tried to go one-on-one too much and we didn’t do a good job of trying to get the ball inside.”
Both offenses returned to normal in the second half. Utah State, which shot 29% in the first 20 minutes, was a sizzling 52% in the second half. The Pack also improved from 30% to 44%.
“It turned into a possession by possession game,” Carter said. “The guys really had to fight for this one.”
Utah State took a 36-29 lead with just under 14 minutes to go on a 3-point play by guard Brockeith Pane. The Aggies still led 42-37 after a 3-pointer by E.J. Farris with just over nine minutes to play.
It was Utah State’s offense, though, that did all the stagnating in the final nine minutes.
A jumper by Story tied the game at 42-42 with 7:20 to play and a Burton 3-pointer evened things at 46-46 with five minutes left. Story then drained a 3-pointer for a 49-48 lead with four minutes left but the Pack needed a free throw by Burton to tie the game at 50-50 with 2:34 remaining.
Pane, though, hit a short jumper in the lane for a 52-50 Utah State lead with 2:11 to play as the Pack was mired in a stretch of 3:49 without a field goal , from Story’s 3-pointer with four minutes to go until Burton’s game-winner with 11 seconds to go.
Fortunately for the Pack, though, Utah State stopped scoring in the final two minutes. The Aggies couldn’t even get a shot to the rim.
The Pack’s Devonte Elliott blocked a shot by Ben Clifford with 27 seconds to go, keeping the Utah State lead at two (52-50). Elliott also blocked a layup by Morgan Grim to preserve the victory with one second to play.
“Devonte was huge,” said Hunt, who also had two blocks. “But that’s the type of team we have. We have a lot of people who can step up at any time and help us win.”
Burton also came up big on defense, swatting away an in-bounds pass under the basket intended for Kyisean Reed with five seconds to play.
“I just saw the guy rolling in to get the lob and I had to step up,” Burton said.
“They only had five seconds so I didn’t think they had time for penetration,” said Carter of the Aggies’ in-bounds pass with the Pack up 53-52. “But I also didn’t think they’d go for the lob at that time. Deonte did a real nice job.”
The Pack’s biggest crowd since 10,526 showed up on New Year’s Eve 2008 (an 84-61 loss to No. 1 North Carolina) saw their silver and blue heroes improve to 12-1 at home this season. The Wolf Pack will host Idaho on Saturday night (7:05 p.m.) at Lawlor Events Center.
“This one was just ugly,” Hunt said. “One through five (the five starters) all played an ugly game.”
Until one unexplainable shot that was so ugly, it was, well, a thing of beauty.
“This just might be one of those seasons when you get shots like that to go down,” Hunt said.