No. 7 Pack stuns No. 2 Cincinnati with 22-point comeback
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Team of destiny. Cardiac Kids. Cinderella Pack. Nevada will happily answer to all three at the moment.
No. 7 Nevada staged one of the most improbable comebacks in NCAA Tournament history, rallying from 22 points in the final 11-plus minutes to stun second-seeded Cincinnati, 75-73, on Josh Hall’s follow shot with 9.1 seconds left Sunday afternoon in the second round of the South Regional at Bridgestone Arena.
The 22-point comeback, keyed by a 20-4 run over a stretch of 4-minutes 42-seconds, sends the Pack to the Sweet 16 for the second time in school history. The Pack, who made it in 2004 and lost to Georgia Tech, will play Loyola-Chicago Thursday in Atlanta.
The comeback is second only to a 2012 First Four game when BYU erased a 25-point deficit to beat Iona.
“The locker room right now, I’ve never seen anything like it in my life,” Nevada coach Eric Musselman said. “It’s the happiest I’ve ever seen. It’s the happiest I’ve ever been in my life. I couldn’t be more proud of a team. This feeling is never going away the rest of our lives.
“We just didn’t quit, you know. Again, we made a decision to start trapping and to leave somebody (free). We had Josh as our trapper and kind of left their point guard, and we were going to live with it. Quite frankly we haven’t been very good in it this year.”
Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin credited Nevada for the defensive gamble.
“Our guys did a great job until the last 10 minutes where obviously they took the gamble and just started trapping Jacob (Evans),” he said. “We got the deer in the headlights look. The ball stopped dropping for us. We got fouled a lot of times and it wasn’t called around the rim, and that got into our heads. It affected our defensive execution. Give credit to Nevada for the win.”
The comeback was keyed by Cody Martin, who had eight points, and Kendall Stephens, who knocked down two big 3-pointers. Their scoring, and the defense cut the deficit to 69-63 with 6:07 left on a basket by Jordan Caroline. Unofficially, the Bearcats went 2-for-13 in that stretch.
Nevada, which shot 51.5 percent in the second half, kept chipping away, finally tying the game at 73 with 54.1 left on a follow shot by Caroline and a 3-pointer by Caleb Martin. Evans misfired with 42 seconds left, and that set the stage for a huge finish.
Cody Martin missed 13 seconds left, but Hall was there to put up a floater, a shot that he spends a lot of time in. The ball went in, giving Nevada its only lead of the game with 9.1 seconds to go. Cane Broome turned the ball over as the clock expired, and the Nevada sideline and rooting section went crazy.
“I wouldn’t say it was drawn up, but the play was a double ball screen, us coming off the right, and coach was going to give me the freedom to make a play,”Cody Martin said. “I ended up doing a step-back, going towards the middle. It felt good, ended up being short, but Josh, he came up with the ball, and I thought he was going to spread. I thought I was getting a second chance at it, but he turned around and saw how wide open it was. He shot it and it went in. He just made a huge play, that’s what Josh does for us.”
Hall said it was the best shot and best rebound in his life.
“I saw an opening, and tried to put as much touch on it as possible because of how close I was,” Hall said. “When I got the rebound, one of the defenders reset the ball and couldn’t get it. I saw them getting closer to our shooters (for a possible kick out).
“In tight games, we seem to come together, and seem to always know what to do and find a way to win. We found another way to win, and we’re just ecstatic for it to turn out like that. We have been resilient all year, and that comes with late-game preparation and being able to succeed late game.”
The comeback wiped out a miserable first 20 minutes. As it did against Texas, Nevada dug itself a tremendous hole, falling behind 18-4 right out of the gate as Jarron Cumberland had eight early points and Evans had four points.
“We were struggling so much, and they were dominating the backboards,” Musselman said. “We knew they were a great rebounding team.”
Nevada did mount a 16-6 surge to cut the deficit to 33-26 with 5:54 left in the half, but Evans led an 11-4 surge that extended the lead to 14 late in the first half. Evans scored seven of Cincy’s nine points in one stretch.
“Evans is a great player,” Musselman said. “They were running pick and rolls, and they knew we were going to switch. They were taking the switch and trying to get mismatches. It really burned us bad in the first half.
“Then we made an adjustment. We stopped switching the pick and roll and started going under or over depending on where the screen was set. That really changed the game for us.”
And, Musselman put Cody on Evans. Martin held Evans to just four points over the final 20 minutes.
Martin, who regularly fills up the stat categories, led the team with 25 points, seven assists, six rebounds and a steal.