RENO—At this point, it’d be hard to expect anything else.
After trailing by as much as 13 (12 in the second half), Nevada found a way to pull out a 79-75 win over Montana on Wednesday at Lawlor Events Center in the first round of the College Basketball Invitational (CBI).
“We had unbelievable second-half effort,” Nevada coach Eric Musselman said of his squad, which outscored the Grizzlies 52-38 out of the locker room. “The second half was the best offense we’ve played all year.”
The Wolf Pack, which improved to 20-13, advanced to the CBI quarterfinals where it will host Eastern Washington on Monday night at 7 p.m. Montana finished the season 21-12 with its second-straight loss in Reno after falling to Weber State in the Big Sky Championship game at the Reno Events Center on Saturday.
While usual suspects Cam Oliver (17 points, eight rebounds) and D.J. Fenner (24 points) had big nights, it was a new face that took over late.
Freshman point guard Lindsey Drew scored seven of his career-high 16 points in the final 2:30, including a triple with 1:33 left that put Nevada in front 70-68—its biggest lead to that point—and it never trailed again.
“It was Lindsey Drew’s by far best performance,” Musselman said.
Drew also passed out six assists and did not turn the ball over once.
Montana coach Travis DeCuire put big man Martin Breunig on Drew late, and the point guard capitalized on the athletic mismatch.
“I feel like it’s been half the season teams have been doing that kind of stuff,” Drew said. “At first, I felt like it was kind of a sign of disrespect. After a while, I just realized there’s guys in the pros like (Rajon) Rondo, they just tell them to back off, and you just have to stay attacking.”
Following Drew’s triple, Fenner jumped in front of a pass and was fouled. He proceeded to knock down both free throws (Nevada finished 23-of-26 at the line). The Grizzlies pulled back within two with a quick bucket with just under a minute left, only for Eric Cooper Jr. to knock down a triple from the corner, pushing the lead to five and all but ending it.
It was the cap on rare sharp shooting night for the Pack. Nevada was 8-of-16 from deep. And it needed to be. Montana was 12-of-22 from beyond the arc.
“When we make of 8-of-16 threes, we’re hard to beat,” Musselman said.
Following a lethargic start, Nevada found itself in a 48-36 hole early in the second half.
Fenner responded with back-to-back triples that sparked a 12-3 run that left the Pack down 51-48.
The deficit grew as large as six before Tyron Criswell tied it at 63 with 3:38 remaining, leading into Drew’s strong finish.
“I think that (consecutive threes) really got us on a roll there,” Fenner said. “It was definitely a big momentum swing … It definitely feels like it catapulted us to the win.”
Thanks to a breakout shooting performance from Montana’s Jack Lopez, Nevada trailed 37-27 at the half.
Lopez, who came in averaging 5.7 points per game, hit 6-of-8 shots from the field, including 5-of-7 from deep to score 17 before the break. He finished with 20.
His fourth triple of the first half, stretched Montana’s advantage to 24-13 with just over 11 minutes remaining. The Grizzlies’ lead bounced around between eight and a game-high 13 throughout the remainder of the initial 20 minutes before taking a 10-point lead to the locker room.
Nevada paid $40,000 for the right to host the CBI first round contest. The 4,524 who showed up were awarded with an emotional playoff win. Musselman gave high praise to the crowd and said he hopes to see an even larger crowd for Monday’s quarterfinal against EWU.
“What unbelievable energy inside of Lawlor tonight, because we really didn’t know what would happen from a crowd standpoint,” Musselman said. “I would encourage and anticipate that Monday could be our best crowd of the year.”
Tickets will be made available to the public at 8 a.m. on Saturday at NevadaWolfPack.com.