With first place in the Mountain West Conference on the line, Nevada squared off against Utah State in Logan, Utah on Saturday night. Within the first 10 minutes of play there were five lead changes, but as the clock approached the 10-minute mark, the Aggies found their stride and didn’t give up their lead for the remainder of the ballgame. Utah State now owns the top spot in the Mountain West following Nevada’s 76-81 loss — they possess a half-game lead over the Pack.
Despite the tough loss, there were bright spots for the Pack such as Tre’Shawn Thurman and Caleb Martin. Thurman recorded 21 points over his 35 minutes on the court. He also managed to finish the night with 10 rebounds earning him his third double-double on the season — all of which have come in the last five games.
Caleb Martin struggled from field goal range, shooting 6-19 and 2-10 from beyond the arc. Martin had a team-leading 23 points with help from his nine points from the free throw line.
Jordan Caroline finished his night with seven points, missing each of his five shots from the three-point range and going 3-15 inside the arc — he made one free throw. Caroline passed 2,000 career points during the game.
Utah State had three players hit double digits but often looked to guard Sam Merrill to finish plays — Merrill was the game’s leading scorer with 29 points. Portugal native Diogo Brito helped the Aggies off the bench as the team’s second-leading scorer scoring 15 points, going 4-6 at field goal range and 7-10 on free throws. Center Neemias Queta rounded out the scoring trio, scoring 13 points on the night and recovering 11 rebounds tallying the Aggies only double-double.
The Aggies won the opening tip-off and struck first, scoring the first two baskets of the game. With just over 18 left to play in the first, Utah State’s Quinn Taylor fouled Cody Martin leading to a three-point play for the Pack and their first points of the game. Merrill responded to the Nevada play with his first of four three-pointers, pushing the Aggie lead up to four.
Nevada and Utah State traded blows over the next few minutes, but with 10:40 left in the first half, Queta fought through the paint for a dunk, giving Utah State the lead back and pushing the score to 12-13.
The biggest deficit of the first half came with 7:18 left to play. Utah State’s Abel Porter setup Queta to once again attacking the paint, going up for a layup and making it a 19-27 Aggie lead. The Wolf Pack struggled to knock down field goals during this half, shooting 36.1 percent. The missed opportunities opened the door for Utah State to pull ahead. Nevada staged a small rally in the waning moments of the first, cutting Utah State’s lead to four and making it a 33-37 ballgame.
The second half continued the trend of strong Aggie play and missed opportunities for the Pack. In the half, Nevada improved slightly from FG range, shooting 36.7 percent. Utah State declined slightly in shooting percentage from the first to the second half, 48 percent to 46.2, but it wasn’t enough to slow them down.
Utah State once again opened the half by scoring the first two baskets, both coming from Queta. Nevada tried to battle back, but for every basket the Pack made, Utah State had an answer.
With 4:22 left in the game, Jazz Johnson sunk two free throws after Utah State’s Justin Bean fouled on the play.
The scoring play reduced the Aggie lead to 63-65, the closest Nevada would get to tying up the game all night. Utah State responded with two free throws of their own after Merrill was sent to the line after a foul on Thurman. Nevada attempted to rally late, but it was too little too late.
Fouls were a major factor throughout, with a total of 54 being called on the two teams combined. Thurman, Johnson, Caroline and Cody Martin all fouled out for the Wolf Pack.
The most controversial play came with 33 seconds left to play, Caleb Martin raced towards the net for a dunk, but Merrill threw himself in front of Caleb Martin drawing a charging foul. The play drew some major controversy on Twitter, with many fans questioning the call.
As time ran out, the Aggies students and fans rushed the court to celebrate. At this time, details are scarce, but some sort of incident happened while Nevada was exiting the court. A video showing an frustrated Caroline surfaced from the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum stadium tunnels after the game. In the video, Caroline punches a fire extinguisher case and has to be restrained by the Nevada coaching staff.
The Mountain West conducted an investigation on the incident.
“After a thorough investigation into the circumstances of Saturday night’s incident, which included a review of numerous video clips from various sources of and the collection of written statements from multiple individuals, the Mountain West concluded the situation was not caused by the court rush. There was a postgame management plan in place and it was executed successfully,” according to the conference’s official statement.
Nevada Men’s Basketball now travels to Colorado to take the court against Air Force on Tuesday, March 5, at 8 p.m.
Ryan Freeberg can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @SagebrushSports.