vs Arizona State
Nevada, once again, displayed another “tale of two halves” performance Friday night. The Pack overcame a 12-point halftime deficit — the largest of the season — in their 72-66 win over No. 20 Arizona State, who suffered their first loss of the season. The win puts Nevada at 9-0 giving them the best nine-game start in school history in the Division-1 era.
Two seasons ago, Nevada came back from a 25-point deficit — when they were down nine points with 49 seconds remaining — against New Mexico State. Last year, the Pack delivered a second half comeback against Texas — after trailing by 14 — and a 22-point second half surge against Cincinnati in back-to-back NCAA Tournament showdowns. Nevada’s brand has revolved around being a second-half team.
“I thought Coach [Bobby] Hurley did a phenomenal job of getting them ready to play from the opening tip,” Nevada head coach Eric Musselman said. “I got to do a better job of getting our guys ready to start a basketball game.”
Even when the Pack was down, there wasn’t a sense of panic.
“I felt like we were going to win it the whole time,” said Jordan Caroline. “We were down by 12 at half time, I wasn’t really too worried.”
Nevada shot 45.5 percent from the floor, but only shot 16.7 percent from three, going 3-for-18 — their lowest three-point total as a team since March 11, 2016 against San Diego State.
Nevada had three players in double figures. Caleb Martin found a majority of his points by attacking the basket, leading the Pack with 17 points on 6-of-18 shooting, despite going 1-for-10 from deep. Jordan Caroline scored 16 points on 5-of-12 shooting, adding six points from the stripe, hauling in eight rebounds. Tre’Shawn Thurman scored 10 points on 3-of-4 shooting, corralling three steals.
Nevada started the ballgame incredibly slow, trailing 23-8 with 9:33 remaining in the first half — the largest deficit for Nevada all season. The Pack offense turned the ball over nine times during that span which is noteworthy coming into the game averaging 8.9 turnovers in the game.
The Nevada offense found a spark off of the bench after a Corey Henson three was followed up by a Jazz Johnson layup, cutting the Sun Devil lead to 10.
The Sun Devils finished the first half on an 11-6 run, taking a commanding 36-24 lead. Arizona State suffocated the Pack on the perimeter, holding Nevada to 2-of-14 shooting outside of the paint and 1-11 from three point range.
As a team, the Pack shot 32 percent from the field in the first half. Nevada committed more turnovers than made baskets, with 10 turnovers and eight made shots. Nevada shot 1-of-11 from deep.
Nevada began the second half on a 10-4 run in the first five and a half minutes — highlighted by a Trey Porter dunk on a lob pass from Cody Martin.
After removing his insulin pump from his waist during action, Trey Porter raced down the floor, preventing a Sun Devil layup by corralling the block with two hands, leading to an and-one layup by Caleb Martin. That cut the Sun Devil lead to two with 12:23 remaining.
Martin’s only made three-point basket came with 9:04 remaining, giving Nevada a 51-48 lead.
The Sun Devils cut the lead to one point with 2:01 remaining in the game after a three-point basket by Remy Martin, but that wouldn’t be enough, as Nevada took the victory 72-66.
“Once we got the lead, I am sure these guys will tell you, we feel very, very comfortable under six minutes when we have a lead. They did a phenomenal job of milking the clock, and playing the percentages down the stretch. We rebounded the ball a lot better in the second half. First half, for whatever reason, we didn’t play the way we were capable of.”
Nevada is outscoring opponents by an average of 11.3 points per game, after outscoring Arizona State by 18 points in the second half.
“We never feel like we are out of it,” said Caleb Martin. “With the guys that we got, we know we are not going to fold, we know that we’re not going to give up. Second half to us, it feels like it is 0-0 again.”
Fresh off the heels of a comeback victory against the 20th ranked Arizona State Sun Devils, the Nevada Wolf Pack flew to Phoenix to face Grand Canyon University.
After Friday’s win over Arizona State, head coach Eric Musselman said he needed to do a better job of starting games. His message did not reach the players against the Antelopes.
Grand Canyon took an 11-0 lead five minutes into the game. Although considered a neutral site game, GCU students made the less than 10 mile trip to Talking Stick Arena giving the Antelopes a home-court advantage. The Wolf Pack finally got on the board after Caroline jumpshot.
Nevada struggled to defend the perimeter as Grand Canyon shot 50 percent from three point range in the first half. Musselman played all nine guys in the first half as he was trying to find the right matchups to bother the GCU rhythm.
Once again Nevada struggled from beyond the arc. The Wolf Pack shot just 3-11 from long range, with Caroline going 2-4. Caleb Martin’s first half struggles continued as he went 1-5 from the floor and 0-3 from three. The Wolf Pack’s saving grace in the first half was getting to the foul line. Nevada shot a perfect 7-7 from the free throw line to secure a 34-32 lead going into halftime.
The second half was arguably one of the Wolf Pack’s most challenging all season. The Antelopes did not let the Pack go on their trademark second half run. Grand Canyon did not trail by double digits until the last minute of the game.
The second half was dominated by Caroline and Jazz Johnson. Caroline along with the Martin twins and Tre’Shawn Thurman played the entirety of the second half. Caroline finished with 22 points, 14 rebounds and shot 80 percent from the free throw line — all the free throws came in the second half. Caroline has many questioning whether he should have been named the Mountain West Player of the Year over Caleb Martin in the preseason a third of the way into this year. Caroline was awarded Mountain West Player of the Week for the second consecutive week and third time this year.
Johnson played the last 16 minutes of the second half and came in clutch from both the foul line and three point line. He did not miss a shot in the half, drilling both of his three point attempts and all six of his free throws. Johnson drained a three pointer from the corner with just under seven minutes remaining shifting momentum to the Wolf Pack as GCU was forced to call a timeout to regroup.
Once again the free throw line was the difference maker. Nevada shot 24-29 from the charity stripe for the game — 17-22 in the second half alone — while Grand Canyon shot 6-8 from the line the entire game.
Both comebacks mirror last season’s NCAA Tournament comebacks as the Wolf Pack overcame double-digit deficits in back-to-back games.
The Wolf Pack are one of only nine undefeated teams left in Division-1. After six games away from home, the Wolf Pack will return to Lawlor Events Center on Saturday, Dec. 15 to faceoff against South Dakota State at 6:00 p.m. The Jack Rabbits are 8-3 this season with Mike Daum leading the team in scoring with 25.3 points per game. South Dakota State also played GCU in their opening game of the season, defeating the Antelopes 79-74.
Darion Strugs and Matt Hanifan can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @dstrugs.