In what was the Nevada Basketball team’s most important game to date, the Wolf Pack (23-6, 12-4 MWC) won a pivotal back and forth affair against the Boise State Broncos (18-9, 11-5 MWC) last Wednesday and secured sole possession of the top spot in the Mountain West Conference rankings. With the win, the Wolf Pack broke the three-way tie for the top seed and placed itself a half-game ahead of Colorado State. On the other hand, the Broncos slid to third place, taking their campaign for the regular season title out of their hands and leaving their fate up to the Wolf Pack and the Rams.
Nevada started off firing on all cylinders, jumping out to an early 7-0 run sparked by hustle plays by the Wolf Pack’s energizer bunny, Jordan Caroline. During this opening run, Caroline had an early steal, transition layup and interior basket to force the Broncos to call a timeout even before the first media break.
“Just a great energy player,” said Coach Eric Musselman. “Tonight was his best defensive effort. We’ve come to expect his energy, his enthusiasm for the game which gives our team an identity of a team that plays hard.”
Despite the sizzling start, the Broncos responded with multiple crowd-silencing baskets that helped quiet the crowd at multiple points in the first half. Senior Nick Duncan, who shushed the student section’s “Duncan Donuts” cheers after every made basket, was able to hit back to back threes with 6:03 left in the first half to tie the game at 28 apiece. With 1:40 left in the first half, Duncan hit another three and a buzzer-beating layup to extend the Broncos lead to eight heading into halftime.
“He’s definitely a competitor,” said Cameron Oliver. “He’s tough. He can shoot the ball, man. I think last game we played him at their place and he didn’t really have a good outing. So I knew he was gonna come in and pretty much play his game. He got his shots.”
The second half had an atmosphere of a championship heavyweight boxing match. The Wolf Pack fell behind by as much as ten points and made multiple rallies to try and retake the lead. However, the Broncos were able to hit multiple timely shots to quell the Wolf Pack runs.
It was not until an Oliver jumper at the 10:05 mark that the game was tied in the second half for the first time. By this point, the crowd was reinvigorated and rose to its feet to try and rally the team the rest of the way. D.J. Fenner likens the crowd’s atmosphere to last year’s CBI Championship games but with much more at stake.
“It was nice for the fans to come out and get pretty loud and that helps out more than you think,” Fenner said. “When you have that home-court advantage, it’s a big deal.”
The home stretch was fueled by an aggressive mindset by the Wolf Pack to attack the rim and get to the free throw line. The Wolf Pack placed an emphasis on playing a cleaner game in the second half and tried to outhustle the Broncos to any loose balls.
“We talked over and over at halftime about the will to win—competing,” Musselman said. “It wasn’t necessarily gonna be about Xs and Os. It was going to be about who has the biggest desire to get loose balls. And I thought, quite frankly, that Boise State—they ripped the ball away from us. They beat us to loose balls in the first half and then I thought it completely changed in the second half.”
The Wolf Pack was also able to get to the free throw line during the closing moments of the game and was able to capitalize on their free throws. As a team, Nevada hit 27-of-29 free throws in the second half as opposed to Boise State’s eight free throw makes. Marcus Marshall, Nevada’s de facto closer in late-game situations, hit a career-high 15-of-15 free throws in the second half to put the game out of reach and secure the Wolf Pack victory.
On the night, the Wolf Pack was led by Oliver who scored 21 points (on 6-of-11 shooting; 7-of-8 FTs) and grabbed 11 rebounds. Marshall scored a game-high 26 points and dished eight assists. Of the 26 points scored by the MW Player of the Year candidate, 17 came in the second half. Caroline also tallied 21 points (on 8-of-12 shooting; 5-of-6 FTs), contributing to the Wolf Pack’s 52-point second half scoring output.
For the Broncos, Chandler Hutchison assumed the scoring duties, scoring 13 of his team-high 19 points in the second half. In addition, Duncan continued his hot shooting, finishing the game with five three-point field goals and tying Hutchison’s total point output.
Heading into the home stretch to determine the winner of the Mountain West Conference regular season title, the Wolf Pack was able to create some cushion at the top of the standings to help solidify its chances.
“When you’re playing for first place this late in the season, you understand that you’re going to try to own tiebreakers,” Musselman said. “We couldn’t lose this game. If we were to lose the game, I think our hopes of trying to win our regular season would be out the door.”
Nevada v.s. UNLV pt. 2 takeaways
In the rematch between the two in-state schools last Saturday, the Wolf Pack made easy work of the Rebels, defeating them 94-58. The win marks the largest margin of victory by Nevada over UNLV in school history. Let’s take a look at the three storylines from this weekend’s thrashing.
1. PG Marcus Marshall is officially out of his shooting slump
After a rough stretch of games against Utah State, UNLV, San Diego State and Air Force, where in Marshall shot an abysmal 11-of-41 from the field, his historic scoring night against UNLV coupled with a record-setting free throw performance against Boise State has gotten Marshall his sweet shooting back.
In the rematch of the intrastate rivalry, Marshall made a career-high eight 3-point field goals, eclipsing his record seven which took place during his career at Missouri State. His long-range shooting performance against the Rebels solidified his place in the Nevada record books, surpassing the record for most three-pointers in a single season. Per Nevada, Jimmy Caroll held the previous record with 95 in the 1996-97 season. Currently, Marshall has 103 three-point field goals on the season.
While D.J. Fenner was able to carry the Wolf Pack scoring load over the past few games, if Nevada is to make a postseason NCAA campaign, it is going to need Marshall to return to his early season form to help spread the floor. When Marshall is shooting well, Nevada is extremely hard to outscore. Saturday’s performance is a good indicator for the Wolf Pack in terms of Marshall breaking out of his slump.
2. Menzies’ Recruiting Class
The year Nevada Assistant and former UNLV Head Coach Dave Rice was fired by the athletic department, Rice had successfully recruited two five-star recruits to his roster in Rashad Vaughan and Stephen Zimmerman. Both players went on to be drafted in the 2016 NBA Draft. He was also able to receive a verbal commit from the 34th ranked recruit in the Class of 2016 according to ESPN, Jaylen Fisher, who is now tearing it up for TCU. During his tenure, Rice had a strong start, winning 51 games during in his first two seasons. While he wasn’t able to replicate that in his later years, he was by all means a solid recruiter and kept the UNLV brand relevant.
In his first year, much like Eric Musselman, Menzies went the transfer route and also signed a few lowly ranked high school players. It is a steep decline from the recruiting classes Rice was able to put together. Menzies is going to have to bolster his roster with better talent if he plans to compete at a high level again.
In his post-game interview, Menzies was blunt about the importance of this upcoming recruiting class.
“I’m 100 percent certain where I am going with this roster from a recruiting standpoint,” Menzies said. “I know who I want to roll with going forward, and I know what we need to do in recruiting.”
Menzies knows his leash is short with this UNLV Athletic Administration. The question is, how short is it? Also, given the financial troubles of the UNLV Athletic Department, if things don’t turn around, can they afford to make a coaching change?
3. Nevada’s regular season championship aspirations will come down to the match-up against Colorado State
Nevada had its share of letdown games after a strong performance in the previous game. Coach Musselman scheduled an extra walk-through before the game against the Rebels in addition to the normal team shootarounds because he was concerned about the Wolf Pack having another let-down game following a thrilling victory against Boise State. Barring an upset against San Jose State, and for Colorado state an upset against Wyoming, this Saturday’s regular-season finale matchup between Nevada and Colorado State will be the de facto championship game. With Musselman’s emphasis on not letting the Pack get complacent, the Wolf Pack should handle its business on Wednesday.
Next Saturday has all the makings of a CBI-like atmosphere. Besides the MWC regular season championship being on the line, it will be senior night for two of the Pack’s biggest stars, D.J. Fenner and Marcus Marshall. The last time the Wolf Pack won a regular season conference championship was in the 2011-12 season wherein they had a record of 28-7 and advanced to the quarterfinals of the NIT, losing to Stanford.