RENO – It may be premature to say Nevada is back.
But it certainly took a big step towards that threshold on Wednesday night, surviving a furious San Diego State rally to hang on and beat the Aztecs in a thriller, 72-69, in front of 8,461 at Lawlor Events Center.
“Obviously, San Diego state has been the premier program in our league for a long time … What a great game for our community to watch tonight,” Nevada second-year coach Eric Musselman said. “My phone won’t stop going off with people watching the game across the county. It was a wildly entertaining game.”
The Wolf Pack improved to 13-3, 2-1 in the Mountain West with the bounce-back win following a head-scratching one-point loss at Fresno on Saturday. It was also the team’s first win over the Aztecs in the millennium. The last victory came in 1999.
Musselman said he heard the team talking throughout the second half about the significance of avoiding a second-consecutive loss.
After a quiet night by his standards, Marcus Marshall (12 points) hit a three with 40 seconds left as the shot clock expired. It felt like the dagger. The Wolf Pack’s lead ballooned to 68-61.
San Diego State (8-6 0-2), not known for its shooting prowess, hit triples on five of six possessions to cut the gap to 70-69 with 10 seconds left. Marshall hit both free throws the next time down and the Aztecs’ potential game-tying heave wasn’t close.
Jeremy Hemsley hit four of SDSU’s threes in the late rally and finished with a game-high 30 points on 12-of-25 shooting, 6-of-12 from behind the arc.
Cam Oliver received some criticism from Musselman following the loss to Fresno and responded with a double-double, finishing with 17 points and 11 rebounds. He threw down a SportsCenter Top 10 worthy put back dunk late in the first half, helping Nevada take a 35-31 lead to the locker room after trailing 27-23.
The led swelled as large as 55-45 in the second half on a Jordan Caroline put back dunk of his own. Caroline took over at times, finishing with a team-high 19 points and pulling down 11 boards – eight on the offensive end.
Nevada held Trey Kell, one of the best players in the conference, to just six points on 1-of-12 shooting.
“I think the whole team (deserves credit),” Musselman said. “We talked about building a wall with Trey. We know what a great player he is. Lindsey (Drew) is our guy that usually gets assigned, and tonight, to be honest, Marcus Marshall was on him almost every possession.”
Nevada edged out SDSU in the paint, 24-22, a far cry from Saturday when the Wolf Pack was outscored 50-16 inside by Fresno.
The Wolf Pack now gears up for a telling two-game stretch on the road: at New Mexico (9-6, 2-1) on Saturday and Wyoming (11-5, 1-2) the following Saturday.