Strong start, finish to first half, dominant interior play, lifts Pack over Aggies
Nevada will likely need to win three games in three days at the Mountain West Tournament in Las Vegas to advance to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2007.
The Wolf Pack started what it hopes will be a run to its first ever MW Tournament title in dominant fashion on Thursday afternoon, handling Utah State, 83-69, punching its ticket to the semifinals on Friday night at Thomas and Mack Center. It was just the programs second win ever in the MW Tournament.
The win was Nevada’s seventh straight, six have come by double figures. The average margin of victory in the span for the Wolf Pack (26-6) is 16.6 points. Utah State handed Nevada its worst loss of the season on Feb. 1 in Logan, 74-57, but ended the year at just 14-17 overall after routing San Jose State on Wednesday night.
The tournament’s No. 1 seed dominated down low, outrebounding the Aggies, 38-29, and winning the points-in-the-paint battle, 36-18.
Cam Oliver followed up his career game against Colorado State last week to clinch the regular-season title with another double-double. He scored 19 points and pulled down 11 rebounds.
Jordan Caroline just missed a double-double of his own, pouring in a team-high 22 points to go along with eight rebounds. Marcus Marshall (14 points) also reached double figures.
Nevada finished the game shooting a healthy 49 percent from the floor. After hitting 7-of-15 shots from deep in the first half, the Wolf Pack went at the rim in the final 20 minutes hitting 13-of-22 shots inside the arc.
A 14-2 run to start the game preceded an identical 14-2 spurt to close the first half, opening a 45-28 advantage at the break.
Leland King entered the game with only four triples on the season and hit two consecutive three balls during the closing run. King (eight points, three rebounds) and Josh Hall (five points, three points) saw big first-half minutes off the bench with Caroline and D.J. Fenner (nine points, five rebounds, four assists) forced to the bench due to early foul trouble.
The Aggies finished the game shooting 40 percent and never cut the deficit to double digits in the second half.
Utah State Senior Jalen Moore scored a career-high 27 points on 9-of-17 shooting in his final game for the Aggies. Freshman sensation Koby McEwen finished with 17 points, but was held to 4-of-15 shooting. He went 8-of-10 at the free throw line.
Nevada awaits the winner of Fresno State and New Mexico in the semifinals on Friday night at 7 p.m. The Wolf Pack won both meetings against the Lobos, including the miraculous 25-point comeback in Albuquerque, and dropped both contests to the Bulldogs.