With a year of maturity and all those freshmen now sophomores, the Wolf Pack picked up a big win after coming oh-so-close in their road opener.
Deonte Burton scored 21 of his 28 points in the second half and Nevada earned its second straight impressive victory over a Pac-12 school by beating Arizona State 69-61 Wednesday night.
“It’s maturity,” Wolf Pack coach David Carter said. “I think the hardest thing to do is win on the road and our guys really showed composure.”
Nevada (6-3) nearly rallied all the way back from an 18-point deficit in a loss to UNLV in its first road game on Nov. 14 and followed that up by winning two confidence-building games at the Chicago Invitational Challenge.
Coming off an overtime win over Washington at home, the Wolf Pack put together another solid performance against Arizona State, using a couple of short runs in the second half to take control of a tight game. Nevada held its composure in the closing minutes while Arizona State foundered, earning the Wolf Pack an impressive win in the desert.
Burton hit 6 of 11 shots from the field and 13 of 15 free throws, while Dario Hunt added 14 points and 12 rebounds for Nevada.
“We’re going into (road) games with a lot of confidence and feel we can win now,” said Nevada’s Malik Story, who had nine points. “It’s more mental now. It’s not the physical part anymore. I think we’re on a roll.”
Arizona State (3-5) had its best shooting game in seven years the last time out and followed up with a dud in its first home game since Nov. 18.
Plagued by poor shot selection and careless turnovers, the Sun Devils trailed by 11 early in the first half, played well for a long stretch spanning halftime, then faltered down the stretch for their third straight home loss.
Carrick Felix led Arizona State with 15 points and Kyle Cain had 14 points and 10 rebounds.
“They’re either not playing smart or they’re playing selfishly — it’s one of the two,” Sun Devils coach Herb Sendek said. “I thought our shot selection as a byproduct of our execution was terrible.”
Nevada has gotten off to a solid start and had its most impressive victory over another Pac-12 school the last time out.
Trailing Washington 65-60 with 34 seconds left Friday night, the Wolf Pack got a 3-pointer from Story with 16 seconds left and another by Burton at 4.3 seconds to send the game to overtime. Burton took over in overtime, scoring 10 of his career-high 31 points in a 76-73 win that sent Nevada’s fans rushing onto the court.
The Wolf Pack started strong against Arizona State, then struggled when the Sun Devils tightened up their zone. Nevada had six turnovers and four missed shots during a 13-0 Arizona State run and had 10 turnovers by halftime after having 12 the entire game against Washington.
The Wolf Pack managed to keep it close despite a few more careless turnovers, using runs of 8-0 and 7-0 to go up six, then kept the Sun Devils at arm’s length after that for another marquee win. Not bad for a roster that includes seven sophomores.
“We came out and played hard,” Carter said. “We knew they were going to give us their best shot. They hadn’t played well at home and we knew they were going to be hungry to get a win at home, and we just needed to match their intensity.”
Arizona State got the season off to a rough start, following a close win over Montana State with three straight losses. The Sun Devils have started to play better over the past couple of weeks despite being on the road, wrapping wins over Wake Forest and Tulsa around a loss to DePaul.
Arizona State had its best offensive game of the season against Tulsa, getting into the lane consistently to shoot 61 percent — its best since 2004 — against a team that had been holding opponents to 37 percent.
The shooting touch went away early against Nevada and the defense wasn’t much better as the Sun Devils fell into an 11-point hole in the first 8 minutes.
Arizona State had three turnovers and missed six of its first eight shots, including a wild hook shot by center Ruslan Pateev and a no-one-near-him 3-pointer by Felix that only ticked the front rim.
The Sun Devils had plenty of breakdowns on defense, too, allowing Nevada to open 6 of 10 from the field, including a dunk by Kevin Panzer after he was given the whole lane to himself.
After two timeouts and some harsh words from Sendek, Arizona State finally started to click, its defense triggering easy baskets at the other end for a 13-0 run that tied the game at 21-all. The Sun Devils led 29-27 at halftime and continued to play well in the second half before unleashing a string of careless turnovers to fall behind by six with 5 minutes left.
Arizona State never made it all the way back, thanks in part to three free throws by Burton with 2:18 left after he was fouled by Keala King on a 25-foot 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down.
“It all came down to effort and execution,” Felix said. “They went out there and played smart, played together and played well tonight. We’ve just got to figure things out.”