Hosting the University of Nebraska-Omaha, which is in its first season of Division I status, the host Wolf Pack struggled from the tip, playing unmotivated and allowing the Mavericks to hang around. Still, a wake-up call in the second half sprung Nevada to life as it grabbed an 81-69 victory.
“It’s hard because you go from your conference, which means so much,” Nevada coach David Carter said. “You have to understand that they’re kids too. They know no matter what we tell them, how hard the opponent is going play, how much you prepare, it’s hard for them to bounce back up. I knew that was going to happen. Trying to get them to start the game like a conference game is very difficult.”
After starting the game behind Nebraska-Omaha with the score 8-4 at the 17:34 mark, Nevada scored 10 straight to grab a 14-8 lead. The Wolf Pack extended its lead to double-digits with 9:28 before halftime by making the score 26-16.
A 15-7 run by the Mavericks erased that lead, tying the game at 35-35 with 1:43 left in the first half. A pair of free throws and a putback bucket by forward Olek Czyz gave Nevada a 39-35 advantage at the break.
“We didn’t come out completely ready,” Nevada forward Dario Hunt said. “We kind of let them run their offense a little bit too easily. They hit shots. They were ready and we weren’t. Then we got it corrected in the second half and started picking it up.
“We weren’t cutting very hard. We were just kind of lackadaisical out there. We weren’t driving to the basket very aggressively. We weren’t aggressive all around, on offense and defense and we started playing to their pace, which we can’t do. We have to stay aggressive like we normally do.”
Hot shooting first-half on the part of the Mavericks made it difficult for Nevada to get the tempo of the game going its way. Nebraska-Omaha hit 15-of-29 shots from the field (51.7 percent), compared to the 15-of-32 (46.9 percent) for the Wolf Pack.
“In the first half they shot over 50 percent,” Carter said. “It’s hard to get some easy baskets, hard to get fast breaks, when they’re making one of every two shots. So I thought the second half we got some stops and were able to get in transition.”
The Mavericks continued to pester Nevada, keeping pace with the Wolf Pack over the first six minutes of the second half, trading 10 shots and keeping the score tight at 49-47.
The following six minutes decided the game as Nevada put together a 12-0 run, creating space to breath, snaring a lead of 61-47 with 10:12 remaining in the contest. A key factor in the run was Nevada guard Malik Story, who scored 10 of the 12 points in the burst, including two treys.
“I felt like I was letting my team down,” Story said.” “I was just playing laid back too much. I talked to the coaches and picked it up in the second half. I just tried to help my team to a victory and not take games off or take it easy.”
Another Story three pushed the Pack lead to 15 with 8:17 remaining, allowing Nevada to coast the rest of the way.
Nevada was led on the night by Story, who finished with 20 points. Czyz and Hunt both recorded double-doubles, with Czyz going for 16 points and 10 rebounds while Hunt had 14 points and 11 boards.
The win kept the Wolf Pack’s streak of victories alive, improving the mark to 12 straight. For the players, they say they are not concerned with that fact.
“There’s a ton of games left still to play,” Hunt said. “We don’t get a trophy for winning 12 games in a row, so our focus is always on trying to win a championship. So we can’t focus too much on our streak.”
The Wolf Pack is playing exciting basketball and piling up numbers in the win column but support from the fan base has been low. Just 3,407 were in attendance Tuesday night. However, that doesn’t concern the players much either.
“For me, it doesn’t really matter to us I don’t think either way,” Hunt said. “Clearly we want our fans to be here. We want them to support us because I think that we’re doing a lot of good things, but if they’re not here, we can’t really think too much about it. We still have to come out and play. We always joke around that it helps us for later on in neutral-game sites. If they want to come out here, we’re going to be here. They know our schedule. Will be out here and we’re still going to be playing the basketball we play.”
Nevada (14-3, 4-0) returns to WAC play when it hosts Fresno State Saturday night at 7 p.m.