The 10th-ranked Nevada men’s basketball team has been a second half team all season, and they proved it once again Saturday in a 67-52 victory over Air Force. After a historically poor first half performance, Nevada cleaned up with another signature second half comeback, improving to 18-1 overall and 5-1 in the Mountain West Conference.
Another slow start offensively had the Pack down 15-10 in the early going. Air Force nailed three three-pointers in the first seven minutes while the Pack started 1 of 9 from deep. Caroline’s and-1 brought the deficit to three points, but Air Force closed the half out on a strong note to keep their halftime lead. Nevada trailed 24-20 at halftime with its lowest scoring first half in coach Eric Musselman’s four seasons. His team’s next lowest scoring output was 21 points against Coastal Carolina in his coaching debut with Nevada.
The Wolf Pack made only one of their 13 attempts from three-point range and totaled eight turnovers, but outscored Air Force 43-22 in the second half thanks to suffocating defense and timely baskets.
The Wolf Pack returned to their winning ways with a 17-9 run, highlighted by back-to-back Porter slams to gain their second lead of the night. Two questionable offensive foul calls on the Pack brought a loud groan from the 11,222 fans in attendance
Nevada’s lead hit double-digits with under eight minutes remaining. Henson hit his first three of the contest and the Pack closed the game out on a 11-6 run over the course of the final three minutes.
“We don’t want to make a habit of scoring 20 points in a half,” Musselman said. “It was a tale of two halves performance and credit Air Force for sticking it out but we really stuck it out and got the job done.”
Center Trey Porter scored 11 points and added six rebounds. He was a catalyst offensively and his energy was felt all game, including an altercation with Falcons guard Sid Tomes in the second half. Both players received technical fouls.
Porter’s play down the stretch kept freshman center Jordan Brown on the bench for much of the game. Brown totaled a season-low seven minutes, all of which came in the first half.
“Trey had a huge height advantage coming into tonight,” Musselman said. “We fed him the ball down low more in the second half and it really turned the game in our favor.”
Another dominant defensive performance led the the Pack to victory. Air Force was held to 35 percent shooting from the field and 28 percent from beyond the arc. One player scored in double-figures and Nevada forced 21 turnovers, which translated to 14 points in transition.
“I thought we did a good job of holding them defensively,” Musselman said. “We really kept them out of their rhythm and bothered them all night. That’s the one thing we’ve done a good job of consistently this year.”
Nevada shot 42 percent from the field and 19 percent from 3-point distance for the game. It’s reliance on the three-ball against zone defenses has kept its opponents in the game for a majority of the season.
Jordan Caroline scored a game-high 19 points and eight rebounds. He has scored in double figures in every game this season and Saturday he moved to eighth place on Nevada’s all-time scoring list.
“Jordan’s done a great job in practice,” Musselman said. “We’re 18-1 and we have a lot of fifth-year seniors, but Jordan has a lot of talent and has kept a great attitude.”
Senior guard Caleb Martin, who finished with 10 points on 4-15 shooting, has been battling flu-like symptoms for the last couple of days and his status for the game was up in the air according to Musselman.
“I can tell he wasn’t feeling well,” he said. “I went into the restroom and he was on all fours throwing up so he didn’t practice. I didn’t know if he was gonna play or not.”
The Wolf Pack face the Colorado State Rams Wednesday, Jan. 23, at Lawlor Events Center. Led by junior forward Nico Carvacho, Colorado State is 7-11 overall and 2-3 in conference play.
Isaiah Burrows can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @SagebrushSports.