The sixth-ranked Nevada men’s basketball team poured on the points and avenged its only loss this season with a 91-62 drubbing of New Mexico on Saturday at Lawlor Events Center. The Pack exploited the Lobos’ defensive gameplan from the inside-out and turned the game into a one-sided affair.
New Mexico’s 1-3-1 zone defense gave Nevada fits when the Lobos gave the Pack it’s only loss of the season — and overpowered them 85-58 on Saturday, Jan. 5. They adjusted by making the extra pass inside that led to easy scoring opportunities. Nevada recorded 42 points in the paint and its presence down low opened space on the perimeter. The Pack’s new scheme against the zone has earned the name “touchdown,” according to head coach Eric Musselman.
“We had a new offensive set we never ran against zone tonight,” he said. “It’s called touchdown. We picked their defense apart and they had a hard time against our zone offense.”
The Wolf Pack improved to 23-1 overall and 10-1 in conference play this season — its best start in school history. Currently, Nevada is slotted into the fourth seed in the South region in the NCAA Tournament Bracket Preview.
“What incredible exposure for the university,” Musselman said. “They talk about us as much as any other team, and for good reason. We’re just happy to be apart of it.”
Trey Porter was the primary beneficiary inside with a game-high 20 points and cleaned up the boards with several putback dunks. Porter sensed a different vibe from the team heading into its second matchup against the Lobos.
“We just looked way more focused,” Porter said. “I think we got exposed the last time, including myself. I know I could’ve done better job and I wanted to be physical tonight.”
Nevada shot 50 percent from the field and 30 percent from three-point territory. Five players scored in double-figures. Jazz Johnson scored 13 points and reached 1,000 for his career. Caleb Martin added 20 points and five rebounds. Following his 40-point showing against Colorado State, Jordan Caroline recorded 13 points and 13 rebounds for his 12th double-double of the season. His 42 career double-doubles are a Mountain West Conference record previously held by Andrew Bogut and Kawhi Leonard who each had 40.
“We’re shooting better than we did earlier in the year,” Caleb Martin said. “We’ve really done a good job of driving the lane and flowing as a team. We have a staff that does its homework to take advantage of a team’s weaknesses.”
Nevada played a complete 40 minutes on the defensive end. The Pack held New Mexico to 33 percent shooting and forced 20 turnovers. The Lobos hit just four of its first 27 shots, a big difference from the last outing.
“I thought we got back to defending at a higher level,” Musselman said. “Causing 20 turnovers and holding them from the field was really good for us.”
Senior guard Anthony Mathis tallied a career-high 27 points in the last meeting and killed any momentum the Pack had with a dagger from three-point range. Nevada adjusted to Mathis’ prowess on the perimeter with a combination of Johnson and Cody Martin. Both players hounded Mathis as soon as he crossed half court, forcing the ball out of his hands and playing him tight off the ball. Mathis finished with just six points on 2-8 shooting.
“We had a big focus on him. We didn’t want to give him any clean looks,” Musselman said. “I thought we did a great job on him.”
Tre’Shawn Thurman, Trey Porter, Jordan Caroline and the Martin twins made up the starting five for the fifth-straight game.
Nevada attacked New Mexico’s zone early with multiple bodies in the paint. Porter crashed the glass and Caroline made the extra pass inside for easy layup opportunities. Caleb Martin nailed back-to-back threes to jumpstart a 15-0 run. The Wolf Pack led 25-4 with under 10 minutes remaining in the first half.
The Lobos finally surpassed the double-digit mark with six minutes left. Nevada’s physical play inside brought them to the double-bonus and they cashed in with five points from the line. The Pack held the Lobos to 2-6 shooting for the remaining three minutes and led 51-26 at the half.
The second half was more of the same from Nevada. The Wolf Pack expanded its lead into the thirties, pushing the tempo and finding easy scoring opportunities in the fast break. Forward Makuach Maluach single-handedly cut the Lobos’ deficit to the low twenties, but a steady dose of Caroline inside and the streaky shooting from Caleb Martin propelled the Pack to a 10-2 run with under seven minutes left to play. The Wolf Pack pushed its lead to 83-57 with under five left to play as reserves Corey Henson and Nisre Zouzoua entered and played out the remainder of the game.
Nevada faces the Wyoming Cowboys on Saturday, Feb. 16, in Laramie, Wyoming. The Cowboys are 6-17 overall and 2-8 in conference play this season.
Isaiah Burrows can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @SagebrushSports.