Nevada men’s basketball bench exploded as the seconds wound down in both of the first two rounds of March Madness. This Nevada team overcame all odds and fought their way back to perform the perfect Cinderella comeback, not once, but twice.
Nevada entered the NCAA Tournament as a 7th seed, still missing key player Lindsey Drew to an injury. Stars such as the Martin twins, Kendall Stephens, Jordan Caroline, and Hallice Cook stepped up filling the gap Drew left with hopes to advance a bit further than last year’s campaign. In 2017, Nevada fell short in the first round of the tournament to Iowa State by 11 points, struggling to keep momentum in their favor.
This year, Coach Musselman and the team would not go down without a fight.
In the first round of the tournament, Nevada faced the resilient, #10 seeded Texas Longhorns. These two teams play completely different styles of basketball. Nevada’s fast-paced grit, met its match when Texas showed dominating technicality. In the first half, Nevada’s offense lacked creativity and conversion. They attempted only 28 shots with 11 actually going in, shooting at 39.3%. This caused issues early in the game for the struggling Wolf Pack. Texas came out strong, lead by star Mohamed Bamba. The score was 35-26 in favor of the Longhorns at the half.
When the second half began, the deficit worsened. Down by 14 points with the clock winding down, Nevada needed an offensive spark. Cue Kendall Stephens and Caleb Martin. Stephens began to drain shots from downtown and Martin was tough in the paint. Caroline played hard and forced Bamba in to foul trouble, and the 7-foot Texas star was eventually fouled out with 3.8 seconds left in regulation. Nevada outscored Texas 42-33 in the second half to push the game to overtime.
Overtime had everyone on the edge of their seats as both teams went back and forth. Going into OT Caleb Martin said, “You could kind of feel the energy on the floor when we walked back out there.” Martin was perfect in overtime, making 3 for 3 from the 3-point range. The team rallied behind him to ultimately stun Texas in an OT thriller, 87-83.
Five players scored in double digits. Stephens ended with a team high of 22 points followed by Caleb Martin with 18, Cody Martin and Josh Hall with 15, and Jordan Caroline with 14.
“This is what we came here to do,” Martin said. “This is what we wanted to do all year. When we got here, I knew we had something special with this team.”
Nevada played the second seed Cincinnati Bearcats in round two of the tournament. This team came into this game with a stunning 31-5 record, proving they wouldn’t shy away from a tough fought game. The game was undoubtedly difficult but little did the pack know, they would end up completing the second largest comeback in NCAA Tournament history.
In the first half, it seemed like the Bearcats couldn’t miss a shot. Nevada played very deflated and empty. Cody Martin keep his team alive, making power plays that helped get the rest of the team involved. After a rough half, the Wolf Pack found themselves down by a significant margin yet again. They trailed the Bearcats 44-32.
Coach Musselman made a few changes going to the second half to try and revitalize his exhausted team, though, unfortunately, his moves didn’t help much at first. The deficit extended to 22 points. At this point, it seemed nearly impossible that the Wolf Pack would come back. But, it’s not over till’ it’s over in basketball. Cody Martin rallied his team in the last few minutes and next thing you know, it’s all tied up. It’s 73-73 with less than a minute on the clock. Nevada ball. Cody Martin put up a shot and missed, but Josh Hall was there to make the offensive rebound. Hall put up a tie-breaking floater with only 9.1 seconds left in the game. Nevada’s defense stuffed the Bearcats to win 75-73. A Caroline slide into center court was the perfect way to celebrate.
Nevada erased a double digit deficit for the second time in a row in the tournament. A 22-point Bearcat lead quickly changed to a 32-8 run by the Wolf Pack. This is a comeback for the ages. Cody Martin ended the night with 25 points. Caleb Martin, Stephens, Caroline, and Hall all ended with double digit numbers as well. Eric Musselman summed up the tournament thus far perfectly. “Nothing feels better than this. Nothing. Sweet 16!”
This is March. And it has been nothing short of madness for Nevada men’s basketball. Nevada is set to play Loyola Chicago on Thursday at 4:07 PM.