The Western Athletic Conference victory in front of a season-high 7,016 fans extended Nevada’s run of consecutive wins to 13. Only Murray State’s 20 straight triumphs is longer in Division I men’s hoops.
“It’s a lot different than last year when we were struggling at this point,” Nevada’s senior forward Dario Hunt said. “We didn’t get to 13 wins until like March. So winning is always a good feeling for your team.We’re really confident. We’re a close-knit bunch so it’s a good atmosphere.”
The Wolf Pack (15-3 overall, 5-0 WAC) used a modest 21-8 spurt midway through the second half to blow open a tight game. Nevada led by two, 32-30, coming out of halftime. The Pack’s lead was still two, 42-40, eight minutes into the second half of the league affair, when it went on the key spurt.
A Hunt dunk on a fast break and a Jordan Finn 3-pointer started the spurt with just under 12 minutes to go in the conference clash. An Olek Czyz dunk and Deonte Burton tip-in capped the run that left Nevada holding a 63-48 lead with four-plus minutes remaining in the game.
The 15-point gap was the widest of the game. Nevada held that on three different occasions down the stretch.
“We got into some foul trouble right there,” first-year Fresno State coach Rodney Terry said. “We had to make some adjustments in our zone. We couldn’t stay with our man-to-man. They were able to run some guys in and out. They had the depth. That was a big part of it to be honest with you.”
Nevada got 12 points off its bench while Fresno State got just four points from reserves.
Four players finished in double digits in scoring for Nevada. Deonte Burton and Malik Story led the way with 18 and 17 points respectively for the Pack. Hunt and Czyz chipped in 13 and 10. Hunt also grabbed 11 rebounds.
“It was a tough win,” Nevada coach David Carter said. “Fresno State played very well and hard. They played their tempo for the first 25 minutes of the game and we made some adjustments defensively to slow them down.
“I thought we got some easy baskets against their defense because we pushed it. Overall, we’re pleased with the win. I know we could play better, but a win is a win. It’s one step closer to our goal.”
Fresno State grabbed the early momentum. With the game tied at 4-4 three minutes after the opening tip, the Bulldogs reeled off 11 straight points. Fresno State’s Tyler Johnson got a driving floater in the lane to fall to end the run that left the California school on top 15-4 with 13:00 left in the first half.
Johnson finished with a team-high 17 points for FSU. Jerry Brown and Kevin Olekaibe turned in 14 and 13 points for the visitors.
Nevada wasted little time cutting into the Bulldogs’ lead. In fact, the Wolf Pack answered with a 14-3 outburst of its own and knotted the contest at 18-18 after Czyz made a runner at the 7:46 mark of the first half.
“This was a good win for us against a tough team,” Hunt said. “They played hard the entire game and kind of spread us out a little bit in the first half. They were getting to the basket a little too easily, but I think we responded accordingly and got on a little run ourselves.”
The league foes traded buckets the rest of the way into halftime. Nevada’s Malik Story made a driving layup with just over a minute to go before the break to conclude the first-half scoring and give the Pack its 32-30 lead at the intermission.
The Wolf Pack held an advantage in nearly every statistical category. Nevada outshot Fresno State 51 percent (25-49) to 37 percent (21-57).
Nevada did not shoot a high percentage from the charity stripe (60 percent) but it did make as many (18-of-30) as Fresno State attempted (13-18).
The Wolf Pack helped its cause by just getting easier shots. The local club held a 38-16 advantage in points in the paint and a 20-6 edge in fast-break points.
After completing a perfect four-game home stand, Nevada will try to continue its winning streak on the road next weekend. The Pack plays at New Mexico State Thursday at 6 p.m. and then is at Louisiana Tech Saturday at 5 p.m.
“We haven’t won anything,” Carter said. “Our goal is to win a championship. We want to fight as hard as we can to win the WAC championship. That’s our goal and that’s our passion. I think our guys have the intensity and mental toughness to keep the drive going. As long as you keep that goal in sight, I think the guys will feed off of that.”