RENO—In many ways it was ugly.
Both teams struggled from the charity stripe and referee’s whistles were a dominant theme, but Nevada basketball appears to be back.
Nevada overcame a nine-point second-half deficit and hit just enough free throws down the stretch to beat UNLV, 65-63, in front of 11,341 at Lawlor Events Center. The fifth-largest crowd in Lawlor history was 195 shy of a sellout.
With the dramatic victory, Nevada improved to 12-7, 4-3 in the Mountain West with the second-straight win and third in its last four times out. The Rebels, who entered on a three-game winning streak, fell to 12-8, 3-4.
“I couldn’t be prouder of the effort and the resilience of every guy that played tonight for us,” Nevada first-year coach Eric Musselman said. “Obviously UNLV is an ultra-talented team.”
In the biggest game of the season, it was a pair of true freshman who made the plays down the stretch.
Freshman Lindsey Drew split a pair of free throws with one minute left to give Nevada a 61-60 lead. On the Rebels next possession, after playing the last several minutes with four fouls, Cam Oliver, another freshman, drew a charge under the bucket to give the ball back to the blue guys and they led the rest of the way.
Nevada wore its solid blue away jerseys and UNLV wore all red to honor the rivalry.
“After I took that charge, I felt the vibration of the arena. It was kind of scary a little bit but I liked it at the same time,” said Oliver, who finished with 12 points and nine rebounds. “I just had to sacrifice my body for the team. My elbows are probably as big as cantaloupes right now.”
From that point on, it was all free throws.
Marqueze Coleman hit two free throws with 13 seconds left to stretch the lead to 64-61 and Jalen Poyser put back a missed three on the Rebels’ next possession, but with just 1.4 seconds left, the game was effectively over.
Coleman split a pair after a quick foul and Patrick McCaw’s half-court heave wasn’t close, sending the blue and silver stringers from the rafters.
“This thing is moving in the right direction,” Musselman said. “And we’re not naïve enough to think we don’t have a lot of work to do to continue to try to build this thing, but this a great win for these guys.”
Nevada earned the right to celebrate with zeroes on the clock despite going 0-for-9 from three and shooting 32.8 percent from the floor to the Rebels’ 47.9 percent.
The shooting struggles were nothing new to this Nevada team, but the rebounding margin was. Despite being drastically outsized and even playing with five guards for several minutes in the second half, the Wolf Pack won the rebounding battle, 41-34.
“It just means we played a lot harder,” said senior guard Tyron Criswell who scored 11 points and pulled down nine boards. “We played harder, put it all together. Coach is always preaching effort and I feel like our best effort was out there on the court tonight.”
Criswell, who stands 6-3, was asked to defend UNLV freshman seven-foot big man Stephen Zimmerman when Musselman went to five guards.
Zimmerman, a McDonald’s All-American out of Bishop Gorman, was visibly frustrated throughout and was held to seven points on just 3-of-4 shooting from the field.
“It’s not easy to ask TC (Criswell) to play the five spot,” Musselman said. “I think originally he thought I was absolutely insane when I asked him if he could play any four. As the season has evolved, we’ve now asked him to play the five … I couldn’t be happier with the effort of our guys.”
Coleman led Nevada with 21 points despite hitting just 3-of-15 shots from the field. He did his damage at the charity stripe where he went 15-of-20.
No UNLV player got into double figures. Ben Carter led the way with nine.
At the half, Nevada held a slim 25-24 edge thanks largely to a late 10-0 run.
Trailing 21-13 with 6:32 left, the Pack scored 10 unanswered points to grab a 23-21 edge with 1:45 left following an Eric Cooper Jr. putback.
Nevada has now won four of the last six rivalry games against UNLV. Some players said it is a sign of where the basketball power lies in the state.
“They pretty much feel like there is no rivalry but obviously in the last six games, we’ve won four of them,” Criswell said. “Obviously there is a rivalry.”
Nevada will look to build on the win on Tuesday night at home against first-place San Diego State. The Aztecs are 14-6, 7-0. Tip is at 8 p.m. and the game will be aired on ESPNU.
“This gives us momentum in the community. I think it’s an attention grabber for the student body,” Musselman said. “If you like basketball and you just sat through that game, then 8 o’clock Tuesday night, we’ll be here.”