Photo courtesy of Breanna Denney/Nevada Sagebrush Nevada forward Elijah Foster (12) goes for the rebound against San Diego State’s Zylan Cheatham (14) at Lawlor Events Center on Tuesday, Jan. 26. Foster grabbed seven rebounds in the first half.

Photo courtesy of Breanna Denney/Nevada Sagebrush
Nevada forward Elijah Foster (12) goes for the rebound against San Diego State’s Zylan Cheatham (14) at Lawlor Events Center on Tuesday, Jan. 26. Foster grabbed seven rebounds in the first half.

By Jack Rieger

Nevada basketball entered last week following its biggest win of the year against UNLV, and established itself as a top-half Mountain West team. The Wolf Pack had to turn the page quickly as it faced off against San Diego State, the best team in the Mountain West.

Winning the first 35 minutes not enough, as pack loses game in crucial moments

Many fans and members of the media felt Nevada would have a hangover from the win against UNLV and concede the matchup against San Diego State. Instead, Nevada had a seven-point lead at halftime, while making over twice as many field goals as the Aztecs.

San Diego State came back after the halftime break to tie the game with just over 14 minutes left. Nevada then responded by regaining a seven-point lead, and was six minutes away from capturing the biggest upset in the Mountain West this season. But in the pivotal moments of the game, the Wolf Pack offense stalled, as San Diego State scored the final 13 of 16 points, and won the game 57-54.

It’s logical to suggest that losing to San Diego State by just three points could be considered a moral victory, but coach Musselman will never be content following a loss, even if it’s against an undefeated, first-place team like San Diego State.

“I hate losing, said coach Musselman. “Hopefully every person in that locker room hates losing. I don’t care if we play the NBA champions, you come into the building every night trying to win; that’s the competitive nature that you have to have. Am I gonna smile tonight because we were close? Absolutely zero chance that I will be happy until we win our next game.”

In the final six and a half minutes, Marqueze Coleman went 2-6 from the free-throw line, which ended up being the difference in the game. When asked what he learned from the loss, his answer was simple.

“I got to be a better senior leader and make my free throws down the stretch,” said Coleman.

Coleman redeems himself, and Nevada earns win despite tough odds

As fate would have it, Coleman found himself in another senior leadership position late in the game against Utah State on Saturday night. This time he made six consecutive free throws to clinch the game, all within the final minute.

“I owed it to my guys,” said Coleman. “I feel like I let them down and we would have had a good chance to beat San Diego State if I hit my free throws. I owed it to them to hit six in a row down the stretch.”

Nevada was facing an uphill battle well before the game even started, as the team’s flight was canceled on Friday because of wind. The team reached out to the Boys & Girls Club for a bus, which wasn’t capable of fitting the entire team. The Wolf Pack didn’t arrive in Logan until after midnight, where the team was 3-18 in its last 21 appearances.

As if that weren’t enough, Marqueze Coleman missed Thursday’s practice because of a lingering hip injury, and Lindsey Drew, Elijah Foster and DJ Fenner were all battling illness. Despite illness, injury and travel issues, Nevada put on an offensive show in one of the toughest visiting arenas in the Mountain West Conference, making 10 of 22 3-pointers.

“This bus ride is going to be a lot better,” said senior Tyron Criswell. “A lot better. We didn’t want to lose and bus back home 10 hours with a mad coach. It definitely motivated us to get this win.”

Nevada (13-8, 5-4 MW) currently stands at fifth in the conference, with the next game on Saturday at Colorado State.

Jack Rieger can be reached at jrieger@sagebrush.unr.edu and on Twitter @JackRieger.