RENO—It was hardly sexy.
On Wednesday night, Nevada squared up with a struggling Air Force team in front of the smallest Mountain West crowd of the season (5,624).
The Wolf Pack didn’t mind the aesthetics. It added one more to the win column.
After a disappointing loss at Colorado State on Saturday, Nevada grinded out a 72-52 victory to improve to 14-9, 6-5—already eclipsing last year’s number of conference wins.
“We were mad. We were really angry after that Colorado State game,” said D.J. Fenner, who poured in a game-high 18 points. “As a group we kind of decided just to go out there and take our anger out on them. And we did just that.”
With the win, Nevada remained one game back of New Mexico for second place in the Mountain West.
The Falcons fell to 12-13, 3-9 and saw their two-game winning streak come to a close.
“I think our guys walked into Lawlor tonight thinking they were going to win, expecting to win,” Nevada first-year coach Eric Musselman said. “And they went out and did what they had to do from an effort standpoint.”
The Pack led by 13 at the break and saw the lead balloon to 20 thanks to seven straight points from Elijah Foster to start the second half.
The Falcons responded with seven straight of their own to cut the hole to 43-30 but got no closer the rest of the way.
Nevada’s lead grew to as large as 23 before winning by 20.
Foster finished with 11 along with Eric Cooper Jr. Cam Oliver grabbed 10 boards and was a point shy of a double-double.
Pervis Louder led the Falcons with eight points as the guests struggled from the floor all night. They finished shooting 33 percent. Nevada shot 52 percent.
“From a defensive standpoint, I don’t know if we can play any better,” Musselman said.
Oliver buried a three at the halftime to buzzer to give Nevada a 36-23 lead.
It would have been much worse for the visiting Falcons if it weren’t for three-straight threes in the waning minutes to keep it competitive early.
Tyron Criswell hit a fast break bucket to match Nevada’s biggest lead of the half, 28-14, before Zach Kocur hit consecutive shots from beyond the arc. Kyle Broekhius completed the mini barrage but the Falcons still trailed 31-23. Nevada closed the half on a 5-0 run, concluding with Oliver’s sixth three pointer of the season.
The Wolf Pack will look to win its second straight on Saturday at home against Fresno State (15-8, 6-4) at 4 p.m.
Nevada fell at Fresno State 85-63 on Jan. 6.
“We did not play very well when we were in Fresno,” Musselman said. “We’ll start our prep tomorrow but I think our guys are playing with intensity and enthusiasm, we have to do that same thing Saturday afternoon. It’s a really big game.”