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Zoe Malen / The Nevada Sagebrush

The Nevada men’s basketball team suffered a historic collapse, as a 17-point lead dissipated in the final seven minutes, for a devastating 63-60 loss to the Dayton Flyers in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on March 21 in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The Flyers went to work early as Koby Brea, Dayton guard, knocked down a long three-pointer for the first points of the game. After Brea stole an errant pass from the arms of Nick Davidson, Nevada guard, he found Daron Holmes II, Dayton forward, who drove through the paint for a dunk. The Flyers took a 5-0 lead in the first minute of the game.

Davidson provided the Pack with a much-needed response, as he maneuvered through the Dayton defense for a one-handed layup that got Nevada on the board. Holmes II quickly countered with a dunk at the other end. With the Pack’s next possession, Jarod Lucas, Nevada guard, attempted to find Davidson, but Holmes II intercepted the pass. The Flyers then turned the ball over as Tre Coleman, Nevada forward, intercepted a pass in the same sequence. Coleman then found Davidson, who raced down the court for a wide-open dunk.

Right after Davidson’s dunk, Enoch Cheeks, Dayton guard, drove inside for a tough layup to match. To counter, Kenan Blackshear, Nevada guard, received the inbound pass and sprinted down the court. He spotted Coleman wide open in the corner, who drained the Pack’s first three of the game. Cheeks scored another layup, only for Coleman to answer with a layup of his own. Blackshear then scored on a mid-range fadeaway shot to tie the game at 11-11 with 14:48 to go in the first half.

After a foul from K.J. Hymes, Nevada forward, Holmes II shot a pair from the line to take a 13-11 lead. In a similar fashion Blackshear once again converted from mid-range to tie the game, before a Davidson free throw helped the Pack take an outright lead of 14-13.

Shortly after, the Pack went cold as they converted only 1-10 shots from the field, with the sole points scored by Daniel Foster, Nevada forward, on a layup. In contrast, the Flyers shot 4-8 during this time, with consecutive triples made by Javon Bennet and Kobe Elvis, Dayton guards. The Flyers quickly built a seven-point lead at 23-16 with 6:24 remaining.

Down three possessions, the Pack persisted. Blackshear made his way through the paint for a layup. However, Isaac Jack, Dayton forward, connected on a layup of his own on the Flyer’s next possession. Coleman then banked in his second triple, and Lucas converted on a mid-range jumper for his first bucket of the game to bring Nevada within two. 

Lucas appeared to shake off his rough start as he drained his first three-pointer to give the Pack into the lead at 27-25. Davidson added to Nevada’s run with another triple and a layup. With eight seconds left in the half, a turnover by Holmes II placed the ball in the hands of Blackshear. The guard swiftly maneuvered down the court and sunk a step-back jumper to conclude the half.

Despite a poor start offensively, the Pack finished the first half with an emphatic 16-0 run, as they secured a 34-25 halftime lead — a comfortable area for the Pack, who held a 24-0 record with a halftime lead this season. Davidson led Nevada with 10 points and three rebounds at the half.

Both sides came out hot to start the second half as they matched each other point for point. Consecutive jumpers from both Blackshear and Lucas helped the Pack along with a Hymes free throw propelled the Pack to an early 43-29 advantage.

Brief momentum came for the Flyers with back-to-back layups from Jack, but it quickly halted as Davidson and Lucas buried threes that kept the Pack steady at 49-35 with 10:54 left in the game.

Points continued to be exchanged until Lucas knocked down another jumper and drained a fade-away three-pointer, which extended the Pack’s lead to 17 points, at 56-39 with 7:36 left.

Nevada began to crumble after Lucas’ back-to-back makes. A foul by Davidson sent Holmes II to the free-throw line, where he went 1-2 to chip away at the lead. On the Pack’s next possession, Nevada forward Tylan Pope attempted a three-pointer that wouldn’t fall. In transition, the Flyers manipulated the Pack defense, which created enough space to allow Brea to sink an open-look three-pointer.

Immediately after, a turnover by Coleman led to a fast-break layup for Holmes II. Another foul, this time by Pope, sent Holmes II back to the line, where he made both free throws to cut Nevada’s lead to 56-47 before the Pack called a timeout with 5:13 remaining.

Out of the timeout, the Pack desperately needed any source of offense. Foster attempted a three as the shot clock was about to expire, but it didn’t go. Cheeks instantly reached for the rebound to start the Flyer’s next offensive attack. Brea then sank yet another three-pointer and Nevada called another timeout.

With all the pressure on them, the Pack began their next possession. This would not last long, as Blackshear immediately turned the ball over to Holmes II. The Flyers took advantage and made their way down the court once more and shifted the defense for a corner three from Nate Santos, Dayton forward, who made it a three-point game at 56-53.

After a missed three from Blackshear, the Flyers had a chance to tie the game. They seized it on a fastbreak, as Brea converted on his third consecutive three-pointer. The game was tied 56-56 with 2:45 left, as Dayton capped off a 17-0 run.

Lucas ended Nevada’s nearly five-minute scoring drought with a tough layup, bringing the Pack up 58-56. However, Holmes II then stormed through the paint, fought off contact from Foster, and executed a successful dunk and one. As he completed the three-point play, Holmes II gave the Flyers their first lead since midway through the first half, at 59-58, with 2:01 left.

In response, Blackshear drove through the defense and scored a layup, to give the Pack a 60-59 lead. To counter, Santos maneuvered through the defense and banked in a layup off the backboard that lifted the Flyers to a 61-60 advantage with 37 seconds remaining.

With limited possessions left, Davidson seized control of the ball. Dayton applied tight coverage, which left little room to pass. Mid-dribble, Davidson lost possession on a steal by Cheeks. Foster quickly fouled, which allowed Santos to sink a pair at the line, to put Nevada down 63-60 with fifteen seconds left, with possibly only one play left.

As the Pack moved down the court, they struggled to find good shot selection. As the seconds ticked down, they were forced to shoot. Davidson attempted a three-pointer that bounced off the rim and into Coleman’s hands. With one last chance, Coleman kicked it out to Blackshear in the dying seconds, but he missed the three-point shot. This capped off a Nevada collapse, as they were outscored 24-4 after they held a 17-point lead, in a heartbreaking 63-60 loss.

“Just March Madness basketball really,” Blackshear said in a post-game press conference. “It was electric in there. I’ll never forget this. It’s crazy. Just a meltdown really. Can’t put it into words. I take responsibility for it. It’s on me.”

One of the most successful seasons in Nevada history culminated in utter heartbreak, as uncharacteristic mistakes, lackluster defense, and unnecessary turnovers plagued the Pack in the final seven minutes and fifteen seconds of game time. The Flyers shot 7-7 from the field including 6-7 from the line, all while the Pack committed five fouls and four turnovers.

“We didn’t play very good basketball the last seven minutes,” Steve Alford, head coach of the Nevada men’s basketball team, said. “When that happens, this can be the result. Congratulations to Dayton. I thought they outplayed us in the first seven of the game and the last seven of the game.”

Despite Lucas nailing the triple that saw the Pack boast a 56-39 lead, Nevada’s best statistical shooter only saw the ball twice for the remainder of the game. The Pack went ice-cold as they managed only four points on 2-9 shooting during the most crucial period of the game. 

“We didn’t handle their runs,” Alford said. “We called timeouts as much as we could. We had zero flow to us offensively. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to do anything in the postseason. It’s the brutality of March Madness.”

The 10-seeded Wolf Pack concluded their season with a 26-8 record, as they experienced consecutive one-and-done exits in both the Mountain West Tournament and the NCAA Tournament. From a 25-point blowout loss to Arizona State in the First Four last year to a 17-point collapse against Dayton this year, Nevada’s NCAA Tournament record now stands at 0-2 in the Alford era. The Wolf Pack’s overall postseason record with Alford at the helm is now 2-7.

James Wolfgang Perez can be reached via email or via Twitter @JamesWPerezUNR

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