The Nevada Basketball team’s magical season came to an end this past Thursday as the fifth-seeded Iowa State Cyclones defeated the Wolf Pack by a score of 84-73 in Round 64 of the NCAA Tournament. The Wolf Pack ended the season with 28 wins, a tie for the second-most in Nevada Basketball history.
“It hurts the way we just ended it but I couldn’t be more proud of these guys, man,” said Cameron Oliver. “We definitely had a historical season. We worked hard over the summer, through the non-conference, post-season and tried our best to do everything you possibly can. The one thing I can say about these guys—we worked hard, we worked hard, didn’t give up.”
The Wolf Pack offense fell stagnant halfway through the first half as the Cyclones capitalized, going on a 10-4 run to create the early separation. With each made basket and stop on the defensive end, the pro-Cyclones crowd roared to help balloon the lead to 15 at a score of 37-22 at the 2:30 mark of the first half. On the other hand, the Wolf Pack was unable to capitalize on a number of attempts from point-blank range, which allowed for them to lose momentum.
“I would say just the nerves, really,” said a teary-eyed Jordan Caroline in the post-game press conference. “I mean, those are shots you make anytime. Just nerves.”
The Cyclones boast a team of experienced players who have had previous NCAA Tournament experience and it proved to play a critical role in the opening half of the game. The Wolf Pack was rattled by the Cyclones’ intensity and by the overwhelming sea of red among the 18,025 fans who attended the game.
“I think they’re the sixth most experienced team in the country,” said Coach Eric Musselman. “Their seniors played really, really well. I think the difference in the ballgame right now was just their veterans and they stayed composed and we really struggled to score in the first half.”
The Wolf Pack, who have created an identity as the comeback kids this season, displayed their fortitude — this time on the national stage. Caroline, who tried to will the Wolf Pack back into the game, attacked the basket with the ferocity he carries in each game. A vicious slam following an offensive rebound of his own missed layup attempt brought Nevada back to within four points with 9:51 left in the game.
“We played toe-to-toe with them in the second half and we got down too much in the first half,” Musselman said. “That’s the difference in the game. I mean, we’re down 13 at half and played really good the last 20 minutes.”
While the Wolf Pack was able to cut into the lead in the second half, the Cyclones also showed their resilience, as they were able to counter the Nevada attack with a 7-0 run sparked with baskets by Donovan Jackson and Deonte Burton.
Nevada made one final push with three minutes left as an Oliver fast-break cut the lead to five. However, in back-to-back possessions All-American Monte Morris was able to draw and convert five free throws to extend the cushion to ten points and put the game out of reach.
“We just couldn’t get over the hump this time,” Oliver said. “You know, we had small things, you know, small things with turnovers and they execute off our turnovers, then the foul calls that happened, unfortunately. But, tried our best to fight back and played as hard as we possibly could. We couldn’t get over the hump.”
At the beginning of the season, when each player on the team was asked what the goal was for the season, each responded: win the Mountain West Conference and get to the NCAA Tournament. The Wolf Pack checked off each of their goals, winning the Mountain West Regular Season Championship, the Mountain West Conference Tournament, and appearing in their first NCAA game in a decade. While Thursday’s loss stung for the Wolf Pack, this season was one for the history books.
“I mean, right now none of us are feeling real good,” Musselman said. “I think in three, four days we’ll look back and, you know, be really proud about what we’ve done. It was a goal to make it in the tournament and we’ll reassess our goals, give them a couple of weeks off and get back to work like we always do and it hurts tonight. And again, it’s a tough loss, but all you can ask your student-athletes is to play hard and really care and that locker room really cares.”