Fifteen-point first-half deficit against Big 12 Tournament champs too much for Wolf Pack in NCAA Tournament first round
MILWUAKEE – It was obvious early.
Nevada, a team that rode superior athleticism to its first NCAA Tournament berth in a decade, was outmatched early in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday night against a long, bouncy and sharp-shooting Iowa State team.
Due to some shock, nerves and countless misses at the rim, No. 12 Nevada (28-7) dug itself a 15-point first-half hole. As the team did all season, it battled in the second half, getting within four. This time, the Wolf Pack couldn’t complete the climb. One of the best seasons in program history ended, 84-73, at the hands of the Cyclones (24-10), who won for the 10th time in 11 games.
“You know, we lost to a team that's really good and better team than us tonight,” Nevada second-year coach Eric Musselman said. “I think they're the sixth-most experienced team in the country. And I thought in the first half that their experience really showed.
“We're all hurting. That locker room, we had a lot of guys crying. You know, guys are hurting. They didn't want the season to end, the coaching staff didn't want the season to end. But again, you know, you got to give credit to a better team.”
Nevada’s inability to win on the glass was if not the most surprising development, the most telling. The Wolf Pack entered with a sizeable statistical rebounding advantage only to get beat in that category, 38-28.
“One area we're probably the most disappointed in is the rebounding because we felt that that was an area that we needed to succeed in tonight,” Musselman said. “And then to lose the battle of the boards by 10 is, you know - that's the biggest difference in the game.”
Each time the Mountain West champs punched the Big 12 tournament champs in the second half, they were punched back.
Lindsey Drew connected on a fast-break off a turnover to get Nevada within 49-44 with less than 14 minutes to play. The Cyclones scored six of the next nine to grow the cushion to 55-47.
Jordan Caroline put back his own miss with 9:56 remaining to shrink the deficit to 55-51. The Cyclones rebutted with a 9-0 run.
In one last push, Cam Oliver threw down one of his patented vicious fast-break flushes to get the Pack within 71-66 and 3:02 remaining. All American Monte Morris, who scored a team-high 19 points and passed out eight assists, buried five straight free throws. And consequently, buried Nevada.
Iowa State hit 11 of its last 12 freebies in the concluding three minutes.
“We couldn't get over the hump this time,” Oliver said. “You know, we had small things, you know, small things with turnovers, and they execute off our turnovers, then the foul calls that happened, unfortunately. But, we tried our best to fight back and played as hard as we possibly could. We couldn't get over the hump.”
In potentially his last game playing for Nevada, Oliver scored a game-high 22 points of 9-of-19 shooting and pulled down seven rebounds. Caroline finished with 20 on a 6-of-16 night from the floor to go along with eight boards.
Senior Marcus Marshall was held in check early, eventually finishing with 16 points on 5-of-16 shooting, 2-of-10 from deep in his final game for the Wolf Pack.
As a team, Nevada shot 40 percent from the floor. A decent night, but not efficient enough to keep up with the high-powered Cyclones, who hit 55.6 percent (30-of-54) of their shots and 8-of-19 (42.1 percent) from three-point land.
Iowa State advances to the round of 32 where No. 4 Purdue, the Big 10 regular-season champ, awaits. Nevada buts a bow on a season that brought the seventh NCAA Tournament appearance in program history, the second-most wins in program history, the first MW Tournament title and first MW regular-season title.
“You know, hopefully everybody in the Mountain West thinks we represented the conference well by playing as hard as we possibly could,” Musselman said. “And again, it's a tough loss, but all you can ask your student-athletes is to play hard and really care and that locker room really cares.”