RENO—Sure, it’s “just” the CBI, but Nevada is now two wins from hanging a banner in the Lawlor Events Center rafters.
The Wolf Pack (22-13) suffocated Vermont (23-14) in the second half of Wednesday night’s CBI semifinal at Lawlor to run away with an 86-72 win in front of 6,133.
“We did a phenomenal job in the second half,” Nevada coach Eric Musselman said. “I thought the first half, we let Vermont get a little too comfortable in their offensive sets … Defensively, we did a better job rebounding the ball (in the second half).”
With the victory, Nevada earned a spot in the best-of-three championship series against Morehead State, starting Monday on the road. Nevada also secured its third playoff win, the most in program history.
“I’m really excited,” said senior Marqueze Coleman, who saw substantial minutes for the first time since suffering a high ankle sprain in a Feb. 24 home win over Utah State. “Regardless of what it is, a championship is a championship. We take that with great pride.”
Coleman went for 20 points, including a stretch of 13 straight in the first half, on 6-of-7 shooting from the field and a 7-of-7 night from the charity stripe.
He said his ankle is at 80-85 percent and hopes to be at full strength by Monday.
“Marqueze changes things for us drastically with his ability to score the ball,” Musselman said. “We weathered a time there where we didn’t have Marqueze with us, and now he’s back.”
Coleman was one of three who went for more than 20 points. Oliver scored a game-high 23 points and grabbed 11 rebounds and while D.J. Fenner scored 21, hitting 11-of-14 shots from the free throw line.
Tyron Criswell (11 points) also reached double figures despite playing just 24 minutes due to foul trouble.
“I thought we really moved the ball,” Musselman said. “We’re scoring the ball at a high clip … and we kind milked the clock the last two minutes of the game … I think our guys are feeling comfortable.”
As a team, Nevada shot 53 percent (28-of-53) compared to Vermont’s 39 percent (26-of-67).
After holding a two-point lead at the half, the Wolf Pack began the second half on an 11-2 run to open up a 48-37 lead. The Catamounts clawed within 53-47 but Nevada responded with a 7-2 burst and never saw its lead trimmed to single digits the rest of the way.
Vermont never led.
The second-half dominance has become routine in Nevada’s three-game CBI stint. In the win over Montana, the Wolf Pack outscored the Grizzlies 52-38 out of the break. In Monday’s win over Eastern Washington, Nevada held a 42-25 edge over the final 20 minutes. On Wednesday, Nevada held a 49-37 edge in the second half.
“I think No. 1 they’re in great condition,” Musselman said of his team’s success late in ballgames. “These guys have put so much work in, leading into this … I think we pushed them to the limit and then we’ve backed off a lot lately.”
Nevada hung to a 37-35 lead at the half.
Despite four different ties (at 3, 11, 29 and 33), the Pack never trailed in the first 20 minutes, leading by as much eight early.
At one point, Coleman scored 13 straight for Nevada, ending with a pair of free throws that left the home team up 29-24.
Nevada will play its first road game of the CBI on Monday at Morehead State (22-12) at 5:30 p.m. The game will be aired on ESPNU.
Nevada will come back to Lawlor next Wednesday at 6 p.m. for game two and the if necessary game three will be played next Friday, also at Lawlor. That game would also tip at 6 p.m.
“We’re going to see what people are made of,” Coleman said of the best-of-three series. “We’re going to see who’s got it.”