Nevada got the second half going with an 11-4 run. A 3-point play by Olek Czyz highlighted the spurt that saw the Wolf Pack forge ahead 45-35 less than four minutes into the second half.
The Wolf Pack lead was still up nine, 50-41 after Czyz made 1 of 2 free throws at the 13:22 mark of the second half. And that’s when things went south for the hosts.
Utah State (14-2, 3-0 WAC) reeled off 11 straight points and went up by two, 52-20 on a pair of James Walker free throws with 9:54 to go in the WAC clash.
“They stayed with it and went to their strengths,” Nevada coach David Carter said of Utah State. “We were up seven and had three or four straight turnovers. Then we missed the front of a one and one.”
The league rivals traded buckets to a 54-54 deadlock, but Utah State scored the next seven points. That left the Logan, Utah school on top 61-54. Nevada never tied the game or got back on top again.
Nevada (4-12, 1-2) did hang around for about four minutes. Czyz made two free throws, trimming the visiting Aggies lead to four, 71-67 with 3:05 remaining in the contest.
The Wolf Pack did not score again as the Aggies answered with the final 10 points of the game.
“Our experience helped us a lot today,” Utah State coach Stew Morrill said. “We were determined. We never panicked and we kept playing. I’m really pleased with our effort in the second half.”
Utah State, which stretched its win streak to nine games, shot a stellar 62 percent (31-50) from the field while Nevada struggled to a 39 percent (20-51) effort. The Wolf Pack connected on only two of their 14 field goal attempts.
“I thought we settled,” Carter said. “We were trying to get a home run (with the 3-point shot). You just can’t do that. You can’t settle for jump shots.”
Utah State wound up with a 48-26 edge in points in the paint scoring. The Aggies bench also outscored Nevada 27-8. Additionally, Utah State, known for its discipline in its half-court offense held a 17-0 advantage in fast-break points.
Foul trouble hurt Nevada as well. Junior starting forward Dario Hunt played just 10 minutes in defeat. The Pack’s second-leading scorer fouled out and had just four points without pulling down even one rebound.
“It was very difficult missing his inside presence,” Nevada point guard Deonte Burton said of Hunt’s foul trouble. “But we could have pulled it out … We have to get tougher.”
Czyz played 36 minutes but had to sit a few minutes in the second half after he picked up his fourth with 11:06 left on the clock. Still, Czyz finished with a game-high 25 points and grabbed nine rebounds.
Malik Story added 18 points for Nevada, but managed just a 6-of-18 shooting performance.
Utah State’s offense was paced by a trio of players. Tai Wesley, Brockeith Pane and Brady Jardine finished with 21, 17 and 14 points respectively.
“They kept attacking us in the paint and kept attacking,” Story said. “They didn’t settle for outside shots. They ran their plays and got good shots.”
Neither team could establish much momentum in the first half. Utah State grabbed an early 11-5 lead after Wesley canned two free throws less than five minutes into the game. The Aggies extended their edge to a first-half high of eight at 18-10 when Pane got a runner to fall with 12:48 to go before halftime.
Nevada started to chip away from there. A 9-2 Wolf Pack run, capped by a Patrick Nyeko putback with 7:50 showing on the first-half clock, trimmed the Utah State lead to one, 20-19.
Nevada tied the game for the first time, 28-28, after Story made a driving layup with 3:40 still left before the break. A 3-pointer by Czyz gave Nevada its first lead, 31-30, with 52 seconds remaining in the first half. On the Pack’s next possession, Story buried a trey in the waning seconds of the initial half and Nevada took a 34-31 lead into the locker room at the intermission.
Nevada plays again Wednesday at Idaho at 8:05 p.m.