RENO — It’s hard to ‘steal’ a win at home. But that’s exactly what Nevada did on Sunday afternoon at Lawlor Events Center.
Without leading scorer Marqueze Coleman, who watched the game in a boot with a high ankle sprain, without Cameron Oliver, who fouled out with 4:52 remaining in regulation after scoring 16 points and pulling down 14 rebounds, and with two walk-ons on the floor for the final minute, Nevada found a way to pull out an 87-80 overtime victory over Colorado State in front of 6,633.
“This is our best win, by far, of the year,” first-year Nevada coach Eric Musselman said. “It’s not even close.”
With the victory, Nevada (18-10, 10-6) not only doubled its win total from a season ago, but also secured a first-round bye in the Mountain West Tournament. The Wolf Pack moved into a tie with Boise State for third place and can fall no further than fifth.
After downplaying the significance of a potential bye recently, Musselman conceded that sitting the first round out would be significant for his squad.
“For me, I think especially with a shortened roster, it’s important for us to try to get the bye,” Musselman said. “They (the players) know it. They’ve heard us talk about it.”
Colorado State fell to 15-14, 7-9 in the Mountain West and was forced to settle for a regular-season split with the Wolf Pack after winning 76-67 in Fort Collins, Colo. on Feb. 6.
Nevada improved to 3-1 in overtime contests this season, but Musselman and the players said it was the one loss, that sparked the domination in the five additional minutes. Nevada outscored CSU 18-11in overtime.
In the one overtime loss, at UNLV on Feb. 20, the Wolf Pack gave up a brutal three at the end of regulation that forced overtime and were outscored by 11 points over the next five minutes.
The script flipped on Sunday, although the disappointing lead-in was nearly identical.
Tyron Criswell missed the second of two free throws with 4.2 seconds left to leave Nevada up 69-67. After quickly moving the ball up the court, Joe De Ciman was tripped by Eric Cooper Jr. 32 feet from the hoop with just .4 seconds left. With Lawlor as loud as it’s been all season, De Diman calmy hit both.
“It was basically the same situation at UNLV,” said junior guard D.J. Fenner who scored a team-high 24 points on 6-of-24 shooting. “In this case, we just got back in the huddle and said, ‘this is not going to happen again.’”
And it didn’t.
Criswell’s miss from the charity stripe was the Pack’s final missed free throw of the night. Nevada hit all 10 of its freebies in overtime to put the game away, and that was after hitting seven of its last eight free throws in regulation. The same could not be said of the Rams, who missed seven of their first 10 shots from the charity in overtime as lead grew to 81-71—the largest of the game.
“I think the guys understand the importance of foul shooting and how that can win close games,” Musselman said.
Nevada led 61-56 after a pair of Elijah Foster free throws with 4:10 left in regulation, but the Rams responded with an 11-1 run to grab a 67-62 advantage with 1:57 remaining.
The Pack’s defense, which improved drastically in the second half, outrebounding the Rams by eight after getting outrebounded by 10 in the first 20 minutes, locked down. Nevada hit seven-straight unanswered free throws to grab the two-point advantage before the blunder in the final seconds.
Foster had one of the best games of his career, scoring 10 points and pulling down eight boards.
“This was a very tough win,” Foster said. “It means a lot to us.”
Tyron Criswell also reached double figures for Nevada, scoring 23 points on 8-of-14 shooting from the floor.
Colorado State’s Antwan Scott led all scorers with 30 points on 9-of-22 shooting, 5-of-8 from deep.
Nevada trailed 33-31 at the break.
Foster connected with 13 seconds left to tie the contest at 31 but after Colorado State inbounded the ball, the referees went to the monitor. After a lengthy delay among loud boos, they determined Foster intentionally elbowed Fred Richardson III and issued a flagrant.
Richardson III hit both shots to give the Rams a two-point lead before both teams went to the locker room, again among loud boos.
The Wolf Pack now prepares for its final true road game of the season on Wednesday at Boise State before wrapping up the regular season on Saturday at home against New Mexico (16-13, 9-7).