The unthinkable was happening at Lawlor Events Center last weekend. The Wolf Pack was trailing San Jose State, who some pundits have called the worst team in Division I basketball, 31-30 at halftime. Shouts of “Fire Carter” were raining in from the remaining members of Nevada’s student section and the Wolf Pack players looked lost on the court.
However, Nevada pulled it together outscoring the Spartans 32-20 to walk out of its home arena with a 62-51 victory over a hapless San Jose State squad.
The victory was not pretty, though. The Wolf Pack shot 33 percent from the field and, for the second time this season, failed to connect on a three-point attempt. Nevada also turned the ball over 13 times and missed 13 free throws.
“I thought we started off the first half very slow,” said Nevada head coach David Carter. “They started off hot, I thought we had to fight back to get it close in the first half, during the second half I think we had more controlled the tempo.”
The story of the first half was San Jose State guard Jaleel Williams. The senior scored 19 of his team’s 31 points, including hitting five three-pointers; he seemed to score whenever he wanted to.
In the second half however, Williams was only able to score two points as the Wolf Pack switched to zone defense. This seemed to stifle not only him but the entire Spartan squad as it was only able to make 23 percent of its shots after the intermission.
“Defensively we went man-to-man and I think they did a great job spreading the floor against us and took advantage of our height,” Carter said. “So we switched to zone and I think that really slowed them down.”
It also helped the Wolf Pack that it was able to play with its leading scorer AJ West for most of the second half. West got in foul trouble in the first half and was only able to play 10 minutes of the 20-minute first half.
West was able to chip in 11 of his team-high 17 points in the second half, most of those coming from the free-throw line. West only took four shots during the game but was able to make 13 of his 20 free-throw attempts which was able to seal the deal for the Wolf Pack.
“It felt good,” West said. “I still have to make a higher percentage of free throws but it felt good and I think it was the difference in the game.”
West also grabbed 10 rebounds to secure his 14th double-double of the season. Although West is all too familiar with double-doubles, teammate Tyron Criswell was able to get his first after scoring 15 points and pulling in 11 rebounds while picking up the slack in West’s absence.
The Spartans are only team Nevada was able to beat twice this season.
With the win, Nevada ends its three-game losing streak and improves its record to 9-19 (5-11 MW).
Nevada will cap off its season this week when it hosts Colorado State on Wednesday in the final home game of the year. Nevada will then travel south to take on conference-leading San Diego State in its final game before the conference tournament.
“I would describe the win as a really hard fought game that we didn’t give up,” said guard D.J. Fenner. “We were down 11 so we could have easily folded but we were very calm and relaxed and we came out swinging in the second half.”
Stone Harper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @StoneHarperNVSB.