Under the direction of new head coach Steve Alford, Nevada men’s basketball split their first two games of the season.
Lindsey Drew’s career night wasn’t enough for the Nevada men’s basketball team, falling 79-74 in the season opener against the Utah Utes of the Pac-12 Conference.
In his first game since Feb. 14, 2018, Drew tallied 30 points, with 5-9 shooting from behind the arc, both career-highs. His previous career-high was 17 points on Feb. 7, 2018, versus UNLV. Additionally, he hauled in six rebounds and dished eight assists.
Nevada head coach Steve Alford praised Drew’s play in his first game back.
“[Drew] was terrific, he was special tonight and that was incredible to see. I thought he did a lot of good things… We asked him to guard a really good player, so he’s got a big defensive assignment on one end,” Alford said. “He gets eight assists and no turnovers, in a game where he scores 30 and our leading rebounder… that’s a pretty good night when you’ve missed the last 20 months.”
Tuesday’s loss snaps an 18-game win streak in Lawlor Events Center, tied for the fifth-longest active streak in the NCAA. Tuesday night marked the first home-opener loss dating back to the 2013-14 season. It was also the first career loss in the Alford era, who drops to 1-1 in his career at Lawlor Events Center. Previously, Alford was the head coach at New Mexico, an inter-conference rival of Nevada’s.
Nevada was berated with foul trouble throughout the game, picking up 10 fouls within the first nine minutes of the contest and 29 total fouls on the game. Utah’s ferocious attack allowed for 35 free throw attempts, compared to Nevada’s nine.
“We just couldn’t get to the line,” Alford said. “The difference in the game is we lose by two by two possessions. They get there 35 times and we get there nine. That’s hard to overcome.”
The Utes’ size and physicality outmatched Nevada inside. Utah out-rebounded Nevada 51-32 on the boards, including plus-nine rebounding margin on the offensive glass.
Alford expressed his displeasure with his team’s play on the glass.
“The glaring thing I was disappointed in was on the backboard,” Alford said. “They were tougher on the glass than we are and I think that will be a good lesson for us.”
Nevada shot 41.2 percent from the floor, going 11-30 from deep. Good contests forced the Utes to shoot 21.7 percent from three-point range on five attempts but allowed them to shoot 44.1 percent from the floor.
Other than Drew, senior guard Jazz Johnson was the only other player to eclipse a double-digit point total. The 5-foot-10-inch sharpshooter had 14 points on 3-8 shooting from behind the arc. Senior guard Nisre Zouzoua had nine points with four rebounds off the bench.
Junior guard Jalen Harris left the game early due to a right ankle injury. First reported by Nevada Sports Net, Harris had X-rays follow the game, but they came up negative for any breaks. An MRI will determine the extent of the injury. Harris played just eight minutes in Tuesday’s opener before suffering the injury.
Drew, playing in career game No. 100, caught fire, opening up the game with 11 of Nevada’s 13 points. He matched his previous career-high in three-point buckets with three-consecutive threes to open the game with a 13-12 lead.
Utah broke it open with a 15-6 run, expanding its advantage to 27-19 with 7:49 remaining in the first half.
The Utes closed the half on a 10-5 run to take a 37-32 at halftime, following a five-point push from Drew.
Back-to-back threes out of the half from Johnson and Zouzoua cut Utah’s lead to 39-38. Utah expanded its lead on an 11-5 run to take a 50-43 lead with 13:47 left in the half.
Although down seven, Nevada wasn’t done yet.
Drew’s three-pointer followed by two buckets from Johnson, gave Nevada a 58-56 with 8:46 left in the game to ignite the electric 8,324 fans at Lawlor Events Center.
Utah responded with a 13-2 run to gain a 69-60 advantage capped off by a three-point basket by Both Gach. Gach and Timmy Allen paved the way down the stretch for the Utes, combining for 31 second-half points on 57.9 percent shooting.
Nevada cut the lead to three with 1:11 left, but Utah expanded its lead to conclude the victory.
Alford was impressed with the Wolf Pack’s battle through adversity.
“I think they care. I think they fought,” he said. “We made three really good runs being down 6-10 three different times in a game. I really liked how they competed. There was a lot of moving parts in this game that they had to manage on the fly that wasn’t easy for them.”
In their second game of the season, Nevada men’s basketball team overcame Loyola Marymount, 72-67 on Saturday night at Lawlor Events Center.
The victory was the first win in the Alford era. Alford took over as head coach in April after previous head coach, Musselman, departed to take over as the head coach at Arkansas.
To start the first half, the Lions had an 8-0 run with points from guard Erik Johansson and forwards Jordan Bell and Ivan Alipiev.
Zouzoua scored the first points for the Wolf Pack, a jumper in the paint, followed by a three-pointer and a two-point layup by guard Jazz Johnson.
The teams battled for the lead, but LMU managed to keep the upper hand.
Zouzoua went 1-2 on free throws in the final minutes of the first half, leaving the score LMU 36-32 at halftime.
In the beginning of the second half, sophomore Robby Robinson hit two jumpers to give the Pack four more points. Zouzoua was credited for assists on both plays.
LMU kept a slight lead until Johnson hit a three-pointer to tie the game 47-47 with 11:33 left to play in the game. Johnson gave the Pack the lead following the three-pointer with another from beyond the arc.
Johnson and Drew helped maintain the lead over the Lions by supplying points in the form of three-pointers, layups and free throws.
Reyes had two dunks in the second half, and completed several layups. At the end of the game, Reyes had scored 10 points on the night.
Drew completed 3-4 of his free throws in the final minutes of the game, creating a five-point lead that the Lions were unable to crawl back from. Nevada outscored the Lions 40-31 in the second half.
Of the 72 points scored, the Wolf Pack gained 14 of those points off of turnovers and made 30 in the paint.
Drew led the team in points with 24, followed by Johnson with 20.
Drew and Robinson both had nine rebounds, contributing to the 40 total rebounds in the game.
The men’s record now stands at 1-1 on the season as they prepare to take on the University of Texas, Arlington on Nov. 12 at Lawlor Events Center.
Matt Hanifan and Madeleine Chinery can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @SagebrushSports.