The 17th-ranked Nevada Wolf Pack closed the regular season on a strong note, going 2-0 in its final two games of the season. As a result, the Pack shared the Mountain West Conference title with Utah State and will be a No. 1 seed heading into the Mountain West Tournament on March 23.
March 5 at Air Force
Nevada’s hot shooting from three-point range propelled the Pack past the Falcons 90-79. The Pack shot 50 percent from three-point range on 26 attempts which helped them ignite a crucial 12-5 run to start the second half.
Nevada shot 52 percent from the floor. Jazz Johnson’s career-high 27 points off the bench with a career-high seven made threes led all scorers. Five players in total scored in double-figures for the Pack. Cody Martin followed with 18 points, five assists and two blocks. Caleb Martin scored 16 points on 6-15 shooting. Jordan Caroline added 10 points and 10 rebounds for his 14th double-double of the season. Senior forward Tre’Shawn Thurman recorded 11 points.
Air Force jumped out to an early 13-6 lead with two-straight buckets from guard Lavelle Scottie. Nevada clawed its way back with back-to-back threes from Johnson to put them up 15-13 with under 13 minutes remaining.
Both teams went back-and-forth on the offensive end of the floor. Air Force cut the deficit down to one point after a Chris Joyce three-pointer. Nevada responded with a quick 9-2 run highlighted by a Trey Porter dunk in transition.
Two made free throws from Caroline brought Nevada’s lead to 37-30 with 3:42 remaining in the first half. Air Force adjusted and started to attack Nevada’s small-ball lineup of Caroline, Johnson, Corey Henson and the Martin twins. Falcons forward Caleb Morris scored four points from the stripe and cut the Pack’s deficit back down to two points. Nevada closed the half on a strong note with back-to-back threes from Johnson and Caleb Martin. Nevada led 45-41 at the break.
The Wolf Pack pushed its lead to double-digits, storming out of the halftime locker room with a 12-5 run over the first four minutes. Two pull-up threes by Johnson in transition and a pair of Porter free throws helped Nevada take a 57-46 advantage.
Although Air Force shot 51 percent for the game, Nevada strung together a couple of crucial stops in the final 20 minutes. Cody Martin swatted Ameka Akaya’s layup attempt off the backboard, and Thurman grabbed the board and found a streaking Johnson, who nailed his seventh three of the contest making it 75-57 — their biggest lead of the game.
The Falcons battled back with three-straight threes during the final five minutes, but Nevada’s perimeter trio of Johnson and the Martin twins killed any momentum. Nevada outscored Air Force 10-6 over the final two minutes to keep their double-digit lead intact.
March 8 vs San Diego State
Nevada saved its best performance for last in an 81-53 senior night victory over San Diego State, marking the final home game of the season.
For the third-straight season, Nevada cut down the nets to celebrate a conference championship. The Pack finished the regular season with a 28-3 record and 15-3 in conference to clinch a No. 1 seed in the Mountain West Tournament.
“When you get into conference play, your No. 1 goal is to play through and get a No. 1 seed,” Nevada coach Eric Musselman said. “And I’m so proud of how we played through some adversity.”
Emotions were running high as the home crowd gave their farewells to seven seniors, but its execution on the floor took down a dynamic Aztecs squad. Nevada shot 53 percent from the field and 39 percent from behind the arc.
A ceremony was held before the game honoring seven seniors in their final game at Lawlor Events Center. David Cunningham, Henson, Thurman, Porter, Caroline and the Martin twins all were honored with a standing ovation from the coaching staff and a sold-out crowd of 11,243.
Four players scored in double-figures. Caleb Martin poured in a game-high 25 points on 3 of 6 shooting from 3-point range. Cody Martin followed behind with 14 points and two made 3-pointers. Jordan Caroline capped-off his final game at Lawlor with a signature double-double.
“We just kind of played free out there,” Caroline said. “It was pretty easy for us to play loose and get into the groove.”
The Wolf Pack held San Diego State to 34 percent shooting on the night, but its 10 three-pointers kept the Aztecs in the contest for much of the first half. Jeremy Hemsley scored a team-high 16 points. Sophomore Jalen McDaniels was held to just five points and recorded four personal fouls.
“I thought defensively, second-half wise, was as good as we played all year, holding them 5 of 25 from the field and we were extremely physical on the glass,” Musselman said.
A fired-up Wolf Pack squad took it to the Aztecs early. Nevada scored eight-straight points en route to a 14-3 run capped-off by a by a drive-and-dish from Caleb Martin to Porter for a thunderous dunk.
Caleb Martin and Hemsley exchanged a few words during a timeout. Following the altercation, Hemsley was showered with boos every time he touched the ball.
Back-to-back three-pointers by SDSU trimmed its deficit to 16-11. Nevada responded with a Caleb Martin steal-and-slam to push its lead back to double-digits with 8:02 remaining in the first half.
The Aztecs battled back once again with a 10-0 run. Caleb Martin’s layup off the glass put the Pack up 42-37 at the half.
Nevada’s stingy perimeter defense helped expand its lead back to double-digits at the halfway mark. The Pack attacked the Aztecs inside and tacked on four-straight points from the stripe. Jazz Johnson’s three-pointer put the Pack up 60-46.
The Pack poured it on in the final stages, going on a 10-0 run capped-off by a Caroline slam to push its lead into the twenties. Cunningham was checked in with 2:15 left and received a warm welcome from the Lawlor crowd.
Nevada will play the winner of the Colorado State-Boise State matchup in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West Tournament in Las Vegas.
Isaiah Burrows can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @SagebrushSports.