By Neil Patrick Healy
Lawlor Events Center was the place to be Saturday night as the Wolf Pack defeated the Runnin’ Rebels 65-63. It was the Pack’s fourth win in the last six meetings. The announced attendance was 11,341 (fifth largest in Lawlor history) and is the biggest win of the season. Here are the five keys in Nevada’s win over the Rebels.
Despite UNLV having one of the most talented big men in the country in freshman forward Stephen Zimmerman, Nevada was able to out-rebound the Rebels 41-34 with 16 offensive rebounds to UNLV’s eight. The Wolf Pack went to a small ball lineup for a majority of the game and had 6-foot-3 senior guard Tyron Criswell guarding the 7-foot Zimmerman for a majority of the game.
With his defensive job on Zimmerman, Criswell was the key to Nevada’s success in the small ball lineup. Criswell posted 11 points and 10 rebounds on his way to his second straight double-double despite being outsized by his opponents. Criswell’s defense on Zimmerman helped force him to commit five turnovers and committed multiple travel violations, which visibly frustrated the former McDonald’s All-American. In the postgame press conference, head coach Eric Musselman compared Criswell’s defensive ability to a junkyard dog.
D.J. Fenner’s 1:29 of brilliance
Nevada was down 53-49 with 6:24 left in the game. At the 5:59 mark Fenner gets a steal, takes the ball up the floor, attempts the three and draws a foul. He makes all three free throws and cuts UNLV’s lead to one. On the next possession Fenner records his second steal of the game, takes the ball up in transition and has a huge dunk that had more than 11,000 fans on their feet, and UNLV is forced to take a timeout at the 5:39 mark. After the timeout UNLV’s Patrick McCaw hits a jumper to retake the lead, but Fenner turns around and makes a jumper of his own to put Nevada up 56-55. In Fenner’s 1:29 of play he recorded seven of his nine points along with two steals and the momentum-changing dunk. He not only brought the Pack back ahead and helped capture the momentum, but he also stopped UNLV’s roll back before it could really get started.
Second half free throws
After shooting just six free throws in the first half, Nevada got to the line 31 times and converted 24 of them (77.4 percent). Marqueze Coleman in particular was 13-18 from the line. Nevada was being aggressive by driving to the basket and drawing fouls. UNLV only shot 5-15 from the charity stripe and was unable to take advantage of freshman forward Cameron Oliver playing with four fouls.
Cam Oliver takes the charge
With 44 seconds left in the game and Oliver is playing with four fouls. Rebel guard Jordan Cornish was driving to the hole and Oliver lined up to take the charge. Contact was made and the referee made the signal that it was a charging foul on Cornish. Nevada never relinquished the lead from that point on.
Neil Patrick Healy can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @NP_Healy.