Four years ago, Nevada Athletic Director Doug Knuth made the transition and hired Eric Musselman for the head coaching job, replacing David Carter, who spent six years with the program, going 98-97 with the program.
Musselman has been coaching overseas, in the NBA and even in the G-League prior to Nevada, his first collegiate head coaching job. In just over three seasons he transformed a nine-win dumpster fire team into Nevada into a mid-major powerhouse, collecting three consecutive 20-win seasons in his three years, one CBI championship, two consecutive NCAA tournament appearances and produced the highest-ranked Nevada team since 2006-07.
It is no secret that Musselman has had his success against Colorado State over the last few seasons. Nevada had earned five consecutive victories against the Rams heading into Wednesday night’s matchup. Nevada’s last three Mountain West championship-clinching games — the 2017 and 2018 regular season championships and the 2017 Mountain West tournament championship — have all come against Colorado State.
Musselman piles onto his dominance, notching his 100th career collegiate victory — becoming the fastest coach in Mountain West history to accomplish the feat, and the 27th fastest in NCAA history — in Wednesday’s 100-60 massacre against the Rams, moving to 19-1 overall and 6-1 in conference play.
Nevada reached the 100-point total for the second time — leading to their second highest scoring total of the season — shooting 56.1 percent from the floor, the highest mark since their Nov. 27 bout against Loyola Chicago.
“It was on auto-pilot,” said Musselman. “I could have gone out in the student section and put on a pink shirt and had fun. When the guys are playing like that, they don’t really need us.”
In their previous six games, Nevada shot 27.6 percent from deep, making an average of eight baskets on 29 attempts. Against the Rams the shots began to fall, shooting 13-of-27 from three, translating to 48.1 percent.
Nevada had six players reach double figures, led by Jordan Caroline who tallied a season-high 26 points on 11-of-15 shooting from the floor, including a season-high four threes on five attempts. Caleb Martin snapped out of his recent struggles, scoring all 18 of his points on six threes. Cody Martin recorded 19 points on 9-of-10 shooting, along with five assists.
The tale of two halves did not exist this time around. The Pack offense continued their solid play from the second half of the Air Force game, getting out to a rare, quick first half start. They converted on ten of their first twelve baskets, including their first four threes, jumping out to an 24-16 lead in the first seven and a half minutes of action.
The Rams attempted to mix in a zone with their man-to-man offense, but it was ineffective versus the Pack offense. Musselman has credited some of his zone preparation to NBA coaches, such as former Timberwolves head coach Tom Thibodeau and Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle, for how they play against zone defenses, also adding “12 to 13 new plays” to help against the recent struggles.
A basket by Rams redshirt junior Nico Carvacho cut the Nevada lead to 24-21, but the Pack exploded on a 7-2 run to extend their lead to 31-23. The Rams would not go away, cutting Nevada’s lead to 33-32 on a corner jumper from junior guard Anthony Masinton-Bonner, but Nevada followed by finishing the half on a 9-3 run, going into the break leading 42-35.
Nevada shot 17-for-30 in the first half, while Colorado State shot 13-of-26. Both teams shot 50 percent from deep, both going 6-for-12 from downtown.
Everything went correctly for the Pack in the second half, as it has most of the season. Nevada erupted for a 15-3 run — leading 57-38 with 14:51 remaining — making six of their first seven baskets, while the Rams missed five of their first six shots.
Trey Porter produced 13 points in 21 minutes for Nevada. Porter once again brought high energy, especially on his posterizing dunk on guard Adam Thistlewood to make it 64-41, electrifying the 10,931 fans in attendance.
“[Porter] brings a lot. He’s an emotional guy, and makes momentum swinging plays whether it’s a dunk or a block,” Musselman said. “He gives us such a whole different dimension from what we have had in the past three years.”
Nevada finished the half with utter dominance. After two converted free throws by guard Jazz Johnson with 1:41 remaining, Nevada extended their lead to 44 points, 99-55.
Nevada had a “pink out” for Wednesday’s game to support Coaches vs. Cancer Suits and Sneakers week, raising almost $23,000. Musselman’s wife, Danyelle, help set up the event. The Martin twins and Tre’Shawn Thurman honored loved ones of the fans by putting their names on their sneakers, to honor those who have had cancer.
“I think it’s pretty cool that they allowed us to honor them and their loved ones, whether they passed away, or their affected by it now or whether they survived,” said Caleb Martin.
Nevada gets a week-long break from game action, travelling to Vegas to take on their rival, UNLV, Tuesday Jan. 29 at Thomas & Mack Center.
Matt Hanifan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @SagebrushSports.