That's certainly how it worked out as the Wolf Pack held off the visiting Air Force Falcons for a 69-56 Mountain West Conference victory Saturday afternoon.
Nevada scored the first 13 points of the game and built a 31-18 halftime lead. Air Force responded after halftime by scoring the first 12 points following the break. Costly turnovers in crunchtime cost Air Force a chance to steal a key league road win and allowed Nevada to force overtime, deadlocked at 54s. The Wolf Pack dominated the extra session, outscoring the Falcons 15-2 to capture the victory.
"We trusted each other," Nevada senior Deonte Burton said. "They're a good team. Give them credit. They fought hard, which is what we thought they were going to do. This is a big one. It's fun now. It's fun to celebrate now."
Nevada trailed 54-52 after Air Force's DeLovell Earls made 1-of-2 free throws with 31.7 seconds left in regulation. Air Force even kept possession after Nevada could not corral the loose ball, following Earls' missed second free throw.
The Wolf Pack's fate did not look rosy at that point but an errant Falcons in-bounds pass sailed out of bounds, giving Nevada possession. Burton got off an open look in the corner on a 3-pointer but it bounced off the rim. Nevada's sophomore forward, Cole Huff, grabbed an offensive rebound and put it back with 10.7 ticks still left in regulation to tie the contest at 54-54, leaving the two teams set for overtime.
"Our team showed some toughness," Nevada coach David Carter said. "Shots weren't falling. We still had to guard. Air Force kept attacking and kept attacking, but we wouldn't let them get away from us. I thought that was the key to the game."
In the OT, the two teams trade a pair of buckets to deadlock the game at 56-56 with 3:31 remaining. It was all Nevada from there. The Wolf Pack proceeded to rip off the final 13 points of the game and earn an emotional victory.
Nevada improved to 12-10 overall but now sits 7-2 in the MWC standings. alone in third place behind perennial league powers San Diego State and New Mexico.
The Wolf Pack earned the win despite failing to ever really solve the zone defensive scheme of Air Force. Nevada finished the game shooting 22-of-56 (39 percent). Nevada connected on just 1-of-16 shots from 3-point land in the second half to finish 7-of-32 (22 percent) from beyond the arc overall.
The local club did get some balanced scoring. Jerry Evans Jr. finished with a team-high 17 points while Cole Huff, AJ West and Deonte Burton added 13, 10 and 10 points respectively. West also pulled down 12 rebounds to help the Pack capture a 46-37 edge on the boards.
"It shows us growing up as a team," Evans Jr. said. "We had to fight late. In the second half, we were down ... We showed mental toughness and that's growing up as a team."
Nevada got off to a good start in the first half. Back-to-back 3-pointers by Michael Perez and Evans Jr. capped Nevada's 13-0 run to begin the game.
Air Force's first points came on a runner by Max Yon at the 14:28 mark of the first half.
The Wolf Pack didn't let up. An Evans Jr. layup with 3:44 left before halftime saw Nevada forge ahead 28-10. The 18-point gap was Nevada's biggest lead of the game.
Air Force did score the next eight points and wound up trailing 31-18 at the intermission.
The Falcons' first-half woes were largely due to their shooting struggles. The Colorado Springs school took 25 shots in the first half and 18 of those were from beyond the arc. To compound the Air Force woes, it knocked down just one of those 3-point tries in the first 20 minutes. The Falcons made just four field goals total in the first half, but kept the score from getting too ugly by making good on 9-of-10 free-throw attempts.
Yon and Marek Olesinski both scored 19 points in leading the Air Force offense.
The Nevada defense held Air Force (9-11, 3-6) to 18-of-63 shooting, 6-of-35 on 3-point tries.
The Wolf Pack plays again Wednesday at Utah State with tipoff scheduled for 6:05 p.m.