Nevada can’t tow the line, still wins
LAS VEGAS — The first part of Nevada’s season ended with a win, albeit not a pretty one.
Nevada needed a big 3-ball from Marcus Marshall, two clutch free throws by D.J. Fenner and some great defense down the stretch to hold off UC Santa Barbara, 67-66, Thursday afternoon in the final day of the South Point Holiday Hoops Classic.
Nevada entered the game a double-digit favorite, but the Pack struggled throughout, mainly because it shot 45 percent from the line and played sub-par interior defense, especially in the first half.
Nevada finished the nonconference season with a Mountain West best 11-2 record. Wyoming is the only other Mountain West team that has a chance to get to double-digit wins in nonconference.
“Any back-to-back is tough,” Nevada coach Eric Musselman said after the contest. “We kept talking to the team that Santa Barbara (now 1-9) was due to have a good game.
“Our defense in the second half was probably the best defense we’ve played all year. Anytime you can hold a team to 24 percent from the field …’’
Still, it came down to the wire. The Gauchos came back from two eight-point deficits, 49-41 and 53-45, to take a 60-58 lead with 3:17 left on a 3-pointer by all-tourney selection Gabe Vincent, who led UCSB with 23 points.
Vincent hit three 3-pointers to help the Gauchos come back. Alex Hart and Ami Lakoju each had putbacks, as the Gauchos converted 13 offensive rebounds into nine points.
Tournament MVP Jordan Caroline (20 points, 12 rebounds) tied the game at 60 with 2:12 left on a floater in the lane, and after UCSB missed, Cam Oliver (9 points, 6 rebounds) drained two free throws to make it 62-60.
After another miss, Marcus Marshall (25 points) came down and drained his seventh and final 3-pointer of the game. Unlike Wednesday and most of Thursday when every made 3-pointer were swishes, this one took a high bounce off the rim and dropped through to give the Pack a 65-60 lead.
“I’m glad I got the roll,” said Marshall, whose five treys in the opening half and his seven made triples were team and personal bests.
Lindsey Drew made it interesting, however, when he fouled Vincent on a 3-point attempt. Vincent drained all three to make it 65-63 with 6.4 left. Fenner dropped in two more free throws and then Eric Childress drained a 3 at the buzzer.
“It was a wake-up call,” Marshall said. “If we’d lost it that would have hurt us. We can’t take any games off. It was good this happened before conference started.”
The late heroics wiped out an ugly first half. Nevada went 6-for-16 from the line and allowed UCSB to shoot 50 percent (17-for-34). Nevada led by a threadbare 39-38 after the first 20 minutes.
The only thing that kept Nevada in it was the outside shooting of Marshall, who went 5-for-7 from beyond the arc. Two of those came in a 13-2 run which gave Nevada a 30-27 lead with 4:17 left in the half, wiping out a 25-17 deficit.
“At halftime I was upset at the way we defended,” Musselman said. “It was like you score and we’ll score. We can’t have that kind of mentality. We had so many days to prepare for Towson, we only talked about Santa Barbara today.”
“We underestimated them because of their record,” Caroline said. “We didn’t come out ready to play. We have to be ready to play 40 minutes.”
And, while this was a wake-up call to be sure, the Pack’s 11-2 record certainly has made the rest of the Mountain West take notice.
Even Musselman admitted he didn’t think the Pack would be 11-2 at this stage of the season. It’s Nevada’s best start since the Pack went 17-1 to start the 2006-07 season.
“The non-conference as a whole, these guys haven’t done a good job, they have done a great job taking care of business,” Musselman said.
“I felt 11-2 would be unbelievably phenomenal to start the season. I felt 10-3 would be really good and 9-4 was possible. I’m really happy. There are three points to a season — nonconference, conference and post-season — and we’ve done what we’re supposed to do in the first stage. We’re seconds away from having just one loss to a nationally ranked team (Saint Mary’s) on the road.”
Musselman said he hadn’t discussed anything about the Mountain West until tonight.
“We were just trying to get through this 13-game segment,” he said. “We are just trying to play one game at a time.”