RENO—Nevada nearly lost to UNLV twice.
Four days after a brutal overtime loss to the Rebels in Las Vegas, the Wolf Pack slept walked through the first half of Wednesday night’s home Mountain West contest with Utah State, trailing by as much as 11.
The second half was a different story. Nevada went on a 16-2 run to grab its first lead of the night and never gave it up on its way to a 73-68 win in front of 6,527 at Lawlor Events Center.
“We obviously really struggled in the first half from an offensive standpoint,” Nevada first-year coach Eric Musselman said. “In the second half … I thought the pace picked up a little bit to our liking.”
The Wolf Pack (17-10, 9-6) completed the regular season sweep of the Aggies (13-13, 5-10) while winning for just the fourth time in 11 games that it trailed at the half. It also improved to 8-3 in games decided by five points or fewer.
Nevada led 69-68 with less than a minute left as Utah State walked up the floor. Jalen Moore, who led the Aggies with 16 points, cut to the rim to take the lead back. Cam Oliver had other ideas.
The Mountain West’s leader in blocks denied Moore. D.J. Fenner was fouled on the other end and calmly hit both to extend the lead to 71-68 with 19.6 seconds left.
Oliver (who finished with 15 points and nine rebounds) said he was waiting for a whistle after his third block of the night but was relieved not to hear one.
“I was waiting but I didn’t hear it so it put a smile on my face,” Oliver said with a grin. “It was clean.”
Lindsey Drew, the other true freshman starter, jumped in front of a pass on the Aggies’ next possession and was quickly fouled. He also hit both, putting the game away.
After an 0-for-5 start to the night from the field, Fenner finished with 14 points, including eight of Nevada’s final 10.
Tyron Criswell, who was battling an illness that severely limited his minutes in the loss to UNLV, exploded for a game-high 23 points and 16 boards.
His big night was almost necessary for Nevada after leading scorer Marqueze Coleman went down in the second half with what was diagnosed as a high ankle sprain. Coleman hit a triple less than four minutes into the second half to tie the contest at 37 but landed on a defender and had to be carried off the court by his teammates after writhing in pain.
“He hit a big three, he was rolling. For him to go down like that was really tough,” Fenner said. “What we do is we just pick each other up. We told ourselves in the huddle, ‘we have to get this one for (Marqueze), because he’s really hurting right now.’”
Musselman said he does not know the time table for Coleman’s return but has no plans to hold the senior back with just three regular season games remaining before the Mountain West Tournament.
“If he can go, I’m rolling him out there,” Musselman said. “I’m trying to win every game like it’s the last game of my life.”
After Coleman went down, Shane Rector was fouled and hit both freebies to briefly push the guests back in front, 39-37, but the Pack scored the next eight points, capped by a Criswell traditional three-point play, to grab a 44-39 advantage.
Nevada’s lead never grew larger than five and never shrunk smaller than two over the final 14 minutes.
At the half, Nevada trailed 35-28.
The Aggies to hit six of their first seven shots and led 16-5—the biggest difference of the half.
Nevada scored 15 of the next 21 points and after a pair of Fenner free throws, found itself down just 22-20. The difference remained a possession, 27-25, when Criswell banked home a triple with 4:10 left, but Utah State went on a 6-0 run to create another cushion before taking the seven-point lead to the break.
Now winners of four of its last five, the Wolf Pack closes a brief two-game home stand on Sunday afternoon against Colorado State (15-13, 7-8) at 2 p.m.
Nevada fell at CSU, 76-67, on Feb. 6 and sits in a three-way tie for third place (with Boise State and New Mexico), two games ahead of the sixth-place Rams.