Nevada Wolf Pack struggles in win against Radford
RENO — Eric Musselman expected more out of his Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball team on Sunday.
“We have to get a lot better,” said Musselman after the Wolf Pack’s methodical 77-62 victory over the Radford Highlanders at Lawlor Events Center. “The good thing is we got a win by 15 points. But we know we have to get much better.”
The victory snapped a mini two-game losing streak for the Wolf Pack, now 9-2. The smallest home crowd of the season (7,272) also saw the Wolf Pack extend its home winning streak to 10 (five this year), dating back to last year.
“The building lacked enthusiasm,“ said Musselman, who is now 34-4 at Lawlor since taking over the Wolf Pack two years ago. “But I think we had a lot to do with that.”
Musselman said he had a lot to be concerned with after beating Radford.
“I know you all would like to get home for dinner so I won’t list everything,“ smiled Musselman. “We’ll coach them everyday. Our communication needs to get better. We didn’t play with any desperation after losing our last two games. I was totally shocked by our lack of enthusiasm to start the game. And our shot selection was the worst in the three years since I’ve been here.”
The Wolf Pack shot 43 percent for the game and missed all 10 of its 3-point shots in the second half. The Pack finished just 5-of-20 for the game on threes for its worst shooting performance (25 percent) from beyond the arc this year. The Wolf Pack defense also allowed Radford to shoot 48 percent from the floor in the second half after holding the Highlanders to just 28 percent in the first half.
“It just wasn’t our night,” said senior guard Kendall Stephens, who scored 19 points. “We just didn’t have a spark.”
A lack of spark and energy was likely due to the fact that the Wolf Pack was playing its first game in nine days, since an 84-80 loss to TCU in Los Angeles on Dec. 8. The Pack also had to go through a week of final exams in the classroom this past week and was playing its first game at Lawlor this month, since a 98-68 win over Illinois State on Nov. 29. The strange Sunday afternoon start (2:30) also likely didn’t help the Pack find its rhythm.
“It was an accumulation of all those things,” said Wolf Pack guard Kendall Stephens, who drained four 3-pointers, all in the first half. “We had Finals. We were off for eight days. You just get rusty. But that’s not an excuse.”
The Wolf Pack came out flat at the start of the game and once again to start the second half. Radford, now 5-5, led 15-12 10 minutes into the game and then cut the Wolf Pack’s 16-point (40-24) halftime lead to just 50-46 nine minutes into the second half.
“We just didn’t come out with the energy we needed in the first and second half,” said forward Jordan Caroline, who had a game-high 25 points and 15 rebounds. “That’s something we can’t allow to happen.”
The Wolf Pack, though, found enough energy to take control of the game by outscoring the Highlanders 28-9 over the final seven minutes of the first half. A 3-pointer by Stephens tied the game at 15-15 with 7:06 to play in the opening half and seemingly woke up the Wolf Pack offense.
“I was just trying to be aggressive,” Stephens said. “We just needed more life.”
Stephens also hit a pair of threes two minutes apart to give the Pack leads of 20-15 and 28-21. Caroline also chipped in nicely during those pivotal final seven minutes of the half with 10 points. Hallice Cooke also came off the bench and contributed an important 3-pointer for a 38-21 lead with 1:20 to play before the break.
The Wolf Pack’s 40-26 lead after 20 minutes is its second largest lead of the season at halftime, behind a 50-26 lead over Santa Clara in the third game of the year. Radford’s 24 points equals the fewest against the Wolf Pack in the first half this season (tied with Hawaii and Idaho).
Radford, though, found its offense early in the second half. The Highlanders outscored the Wolf Pack 19-6 over an eight-minute stretch in the second half to cut the Pack’s lead to just 50-46 with 11 minutes to go.
“We had stretches where we played hard but only for a short time,” said Josh Hall, who came off the bench to score 11 points in 24 minutes.
The Wolf Pack, just like in the first half, played well in the second half when it needed to play well.
A layup by Caroline off a feed from Caleb Martin gave the Pack a 52-46 lead. Point guard Lindsey Drew, who scored a combined two points in 51 minutes in the losses to Texas Tech and TCU, converted a layup off a pass from Cooke for a 56-48 lead. A Caroline dunk, thanks to another pass by Cooke, put the lead back in double digits at 59-49 with 8:26 to play.
The closest Radford would get the rest of the way was eight (64-56) with 5:51 left. Hall, who did not score a single point in the Pack’s three previous games, scored six points in the final 5:29.
“I just felt more comfortable,” said Hall, who was a combined 0-for-8 from the floor against UC Irvine, Texas Tech and TCU. “I just wanted to get back in the groove. This was definitely a bounce back game for me.”
The Wolf Pack beat Radford despite not getting a ton of offensive production from either Caleb or Cody Martin. The twins combined for just eight points in 61 minutes after teaming up to score 94 of the Pack’s 166 points (57 per cent) in the losses to Texas Tech and TCU. Hall’s 11 points and eight from Drew helped offset the lack of point production from the Martin brothers.
“That shows how all around our team is,” Hall said. “Those two guys are our best players. But this shows how deep our team is this year.”
Caroline’s 25 points kept the Wolf Pack’s streak of having at least one 20-point scorer in every game this season. Caroline, Stephens and Hall made sure the Pack’s streak of having at least three players in double figures in every game also stayed alive.
The Wolf Pack will take on UC Davis on Tuesday night (7 p.m.) at Lawlor Events Center.
“If we play like this we’re not winning against Davis,” Musselman said. “I can tell you that.”