By Javier Hernandez
It was a tale of two halves for Nevada (3-1, 0-0 MWC) after a furious comeback from a 10-point halftime deficit to beat the Iona Gaels (0-2, 0-0 MAAC) 91-76. The Wolf Pack has now won three games in a row and matched last season’s 3-1 start to begin the season.
Sunday’s contest was the Wolf Pack’s second game in three days. Coming into the game the Gaels only played one game, a blowout loss to Florida State. The short turnaround seemed to affect the Pack’s play in the first half as it came out flat to start the game. The Gaels, on the other hand, came out aggressive and fresh.
“I thought we were sluggish in the first 20 minutes of the game,” said Nevada head coach Eric Musselman. “The thing we talked about was, ‘We’re at home, we have a great crowd, and we’re not giving them anything to cheer about. You gotta do something to create energy in your own building.’ Above all else, once we got the crowd involved, I thought that really helped us.”
Despite not having the size advantage in the front court, Iona’s hustle resulted in outrebounding Nevada 26-19. The Gaels were able to do damage in the paint as they were able to drive against the Wolf Pack guards on multiple occasions. Guard E.J. Crawford scored all of his 12 points in the first half and Forward Jordan Washington was unstoppable in the paint, as he scored 29 points (on 11-of-14 shooting) and grabbed 13 rebounds.
“I don’t know if anyone in the room knows it, but Washington led the nation in points-per-minute last year,” Musselman said. “Not Buddy Hield, but Washington. I talked to the team and said ‘Alright, tell us some great players in college basketball.’ A lot of names went up and not Washington and I said, ‘You gotta understand that my man down there that you’re going against tonight, number 23, he led the entire nation in points-per-minute.’ He’s a really talented guy and we’re gonna continue working on our post defense and talk about angles and such.”
After the sluggish first half, the Wolf Pack went on a 22-4 run to begin the second half. With 13:16 left in the second half, Marcus Marshall hit a three pointer to take a 51-50 lead and forcing the Gaels to call a timeout. Nevada never relinquished the lead and extended it with the offense coming alive in the second half shooting 61.5 percent from the field (on 16-of-26 shots) after shooting a below average 41.2 percent (on 14-of-34 shots) in the first half.
“I didn’t even know it was a 22-4 run but we just played with life in the second half,” said Nevada forward Elijah Foster. “When we look in the stands and everybody’s cheering and we can’t hear the play calls, it gets us going when we have the whole city behind us. I thought in the first half we were very boring and didn’t give them much to cheer for like coach said. So we just picked it up.”
All five Nevada starters scored in double digits, which marks the highest amount of double digit scorers for the Wolf Pack this season. Foster, who kept the Wolf Pack in the game for most of the first half, notched his second double-double of the season with 21 points (on 8-of-12 shooting) and 10 rebounds. Jordan Caroline also recorded his second straight double-double as he scored 15 points (on 5-of-9 shooting) and grabbed 13 rebounds. Cameron Oliver, who struggled with foul trouble in the first half, scored 22 points (on 8-of-12 shooting; 14 points in the second half) and had six rebounds. Marcus Marshall had 20 points (on 4-of-10 shooting). Finally, Lindsey Drew rounds out the Pack’s double-digit scorers by contributing a near triple-double scoring 11 points (on 4-of-10 shooting), grabbing 9 rebounds, and dishing 6 assists.
The Wolf Pack will face walk-on Colin Weaver’s former school, the Oakland Golden Grizzlies (4-0, 0-0 Horizon League) on Wednesday night in Anchorage, Alaska as part of the Great Alaska Shootout. The Grizzlies have won four straight games to begin their season and are one of the favorites to win the Horizon League. Last season, the Grizzlies had a 23-12 record and lost in the Vegas 16 tournament final to Old Dominion.
“They’re well coached,” Musselman said. “They’re probably an NCAA team based on the fact that they’ll probably win their conference. They’re 4-0 right now and playing with a lot of confidence. They’ll be a test for us for sure.”
Javier Hernandez can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @SagebrushSports.