RENO—Fourteen games into the 2015-16 season, Nevada has already matched last year’s win total.
The Wolf Pack hung on to beat Wyoming 71-68 in Saturday’s Mountain West Conference home opener in front of 6,317 at Lawlor Events Center to improve to 9-5, 1-1 in conference play. Nevada was 9-22 last winter. The victory also snapped the first two-game skid of the season.
The Cowboys, who fell to the Wolf Pack for just the third time in program history, dropped to 7-8, 0-2.
“The two losses (at Wichita State and at New Mexico) hurt them and coming off last year, you always have to be concerned about confidence,” first-year Nevada coach Eric Musselman said. “But tonight in the huddles, I don’t think there was any panic. The guys had a quiet confidence about themselves playing at home.”
The Wolf Pack improved to 6-0 at home with the win.
Senior Marqueze Coleman, who has never shied from a big shot, hit a fade away triple with 20.1 seconds left to push the Pack up 68-64 and all but end the game.
In a surprise to many, Coleman did not start. He came off the bench to finish with a team-high 23 points on 8-of-18 shooting, 2-of-3 from deep. He sat the first four minutes after showing up late to a practice earlier in the week.
He also hit 3-of-4 free throws in the final 15 seconds to put it away.
“He (Coleman) has been so clutch all year,” Musselman said. “There’s no secret, when the game’s on the line, he’s going to have the ball in his hands.”
When Coleman was asked if there was a chance he wasn’t going to take the shot in the final 20 seconds, he laughed.
“I don’t think so,” he said.
The Pack threatened to pull away in the second half, building three separate leads of eight, but each time, Wyoming’s Josh Adams had an answer on the Cowboys’ next possession—twice he answered with threes.
Adams finished with a game-high 26 points on 8-of-19 shooting from the field.
“Josh has to score for his team to even have a chance in the game so we knew coming in he was going to score,” Coleman said. “We just had to make sure the other guys around him didn’t affect the game as much.”
Only six other Cowboys got on the state sheet.
Nevada trailed by three at the half but opened the second half on a 10-0 run and never trailed again. Musselman said his team played its best defense of the season in the spurt.
Freshman sensation Cam Oliver sat much of the first half with early foul trouble, but keyed the momentum switch, scoring seven of the 10 points on his own in the flurry out of the locker room.
Oliver was the only Nevada player to join Coleman in double figures, finishing with 15 points and eight rebounds.
“I just figured I’d be the spark in the second half,” Oliver, who sat 10 minutes in the first half, said.
At a sluggish first half, Nevada trailed 37-34.
Whistles were a dominant theme. The zebras called 24 fouls that resulted in 29 of the game’s 51 free throws. Wyoming was 10-of-14 from the charity stripe while Nevada was 12-of-15.
The lead changed hands six times early until the Cowboys went on an 11-0 run that turned a 27-23 hole into a 34-27 advantage—matching the biggest distance of the half since Nevada opened on a 9-2 run.
Freshman point guard Lindsey Drew stopped the bleeding with a triple with 2:04 left to lead a quick 7-3 burst going to the locker room, leaving the Pack down three.
The Wolf Pack will try to reach double digit wins for the first time since the 2013-14 season on Wednesday night at Fresno State.
The game at Fresno State starts a brief two-game road trip (at Air Force on Saturday) before Nevada returns to Lawlor on Jan. 13 against Boise State.