Pack pulls away from Colorado State in second half, heads to Vegas as No. 1 seed
RENO – The pool of superlatives to describe Nevada’s meteoric rise is all but dried up.
After inheriting a program that won just nine total games two years ago, coach Eric Musselman ripped his shirt off on Saturday night, waving it in the air while getting showered by silver and blue confetti.
Few could blame him. The former NBA coach had just led the Wolf Pack to its first Mountain West regular season title ever.
So, coach, how does it feel?
“I was just out there celebrating for about 45 minutes. How did it look like it felt?” Musselman said. “No, it feels great. I just told the team the commitment they’ve shown … it’s an incredible feeling for all of them.”
Nevada overcame a 10-point first-half deficit and pulled away from Colorado State in the second half for a what turned into a convincing 85-72 victory in front of 11,662 at Lawlor Events Center – the third largest crowd in the arena’s history.
The Wolf Pack (25-6, 14-4) won its sixth straight and finished with the most Mountain West conference wins ever. The Rams (21-10, 13-5) saw their seven-game winning streak snapped.
Seniors D.J. Fenner and Marcus Marshall were honored before the game for Senior Night. Marshall scored 18 points (along with 10 assists) while Fenner was held to six (moving into a tie with Luke Babbitt for 14th on Nevada’s all-time scoring list).
Both admitted early Senior Nigh jitters factored in the early hole.
“That was one of my first times having nerves like that,” Marshall said. “I actually turned to D.J. right before we started and said, ‘I’m kind of nervous.’ I really do think it was the nerves … but we shook that off.”
They may not have been the only ones playing at Lawlor for the last time.
After putting his name in, then pulling it out, of last year’s NBA draft, sophomore Cam Oliver had a career night. Number zero scored a career-high 29 points to go along with a season-high 17 rebounds.
He waved to the crowd, maybe as if to say goodbye to Lawlor, maybe as if to say goodbye to Colorado State, following one of his patented fast-break alley oop finishes with one minute left. The cherry on top.
Oliver didn’t want to discuss his future, however.
“Not right now. Not right now,” he said. “I’m just focused on the season right now … We’re not done yet. We still have a long, long way to go. This is definitely a goal we wanted to grab. And we got it.”
He checked out of the game in the final seconds and gave an emotional hug to Musselman, then went down the line.
“(Oliver) just has another gear,” Musselman said.
With the game knotted at 49 apiece with more than 12 minutes left in the second half, the best three-point shooting team in the conference did its thing.
Jordan Caroline (18 points, 15 rebounds), Fenner and Marshall hit back-to-back-to-back triples to give the home team a nine-point lead.
The lead shrunk no smaller than eight the rest of the way, growing as large as 15.
The players didn’t feel barrage was the run that swung the game. Instead, they pointed to the 11-3 spurt at the end of the first half that trimmed the 10-point deficit to 42-40 going to the locker room.
“I think that was huge. It gave us momentum going to the second half.” Fenner said. “For us to do that and get a stop at the end, that really helps us going to the locker room. It builds our confidence and we showed that coming out in the second half.”
Colorado State was led by Gian Clavell, who almost single-handedly kept the Rams in contention throughout the second half. The senior finished with a game-high 33 points (four shy of his career best) on 10-of-22 shooting, 6-of-11 from deep.
The Rams shot nearly 52 percent from the field in the first half (both teams were 8-of-17 from three in the first 20 minutes) before being held to 26 percent out of the locker room.
“That was probably, not probably, it was our best defensive 20 minutes of the year,” Musselman said.
Nevada and Colorado State entered as the two best rebounding teams in the conference. The home team won on the glass, 44-36. Oliver and Caroline alone corralled 32 missed shots.
It’s now onto the Mountain West Tournament next week in Las Vegas for both teams. Nevada earned a first-round bye and will open with the winner of San Jose State and Utah State on Thursday at noon.
It is widely believed Nevada will have to win three games in three days to earn a spot in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2007.
“We’re not done yet. We’re not done at all,” Oliver said. “Like I said, this is one of the goals that we wanted to achieve and we got. But we’re not done yet.”