AJ West finished a three-point play the hard way to put Nevada in front 41-38 and Deonte Burton followed with what proved to be the play of the game -- though he would not admit it. Burton used his impressive vertical leap to steal an inbound pass with one paw and lay it in. Burton went ballistic. The crowd reached the highest decibels of the night. And Colorado State was lost as Nevada built a solid lead at 49-38.
“I’m not sure,” Burton said. “I was just was trying to play hard and get the steal for my team. I don’t think it was the play of the game though.”
Nevada’s lead ballooned to as much as 13 and did not shrink below five.
Burton was once again Nevada’s leading scoring, finishing with 18 points on 5-of-11 shooting, but for one of the first times this season, the Pack’s bench provided a spark.
Nevada’s bench outscored Colorado State’s 13-5, led by seven points from Marqueze Coleman in 13 minutes on the court.
“It’s very important. When guys come in, I tell them you have to be ready,” Nevada coach David Carter said of his bench. “I thought DJ Fenner and Marqueze (Coleman) gave us a lift with their scoring.”
Fenner scored four points in 10 minutes.
Trailing by at least three possessions for most of the second half, the Rams got within five, 72-67, with 1:01 remaining. Burton then drilled a pair of free throws and Colorado State missed its next three field goal tries to put the game on ice.
Nevada was able to win its sixth MWC game of the season despite connecting on just 5-of-17 shots from beyond the arc. Holding Colorado State to 3-of-18 from three-point land certainly helped compensate.
“I thought our defense played very well the second half and allowed us to get a lead,” Carter said. “I thought we shot free throws a little better tonight (25-for-33) to extend the lead. But you know I tell the guys all the time, if your offense isn’t going then your defense has to be very good and that’s what I thought we did tonight.”
Although tight in the second half, the Nevada zone defense was shaky early in the first half, allowing the Rams to connect on 11 of their first 20 shots. Colorado State led by as much as six, 18-12, with 10:28 left in the first half.
“They were doing a very good in their motion offense. We were trying to switch and got confused on a couple switches. We had a couple mismatches when we did switch,” Carter said. “When we went to zone, I thought we got them standing around a little bit. They weren’t able to penetrate as much after the first 10 minutes.”
Nevada outscored Colorado State 21-10 after trailing by six to take a 33-28 lead into the locker room.
The Rams opened the second half on a 5-0 run and tied the game three times after Nevada baskets before the hosts pulled away with the key 11-0 run.
Colorado State’s version of the big three, J.J. Avilla (12 points), Daniel Bejarno (17 points) and Jon Octeus (21 points) carried the Rams’ offense as expected but they were held to 15-of-43 shooting (34.8 percent).
“You are not going to stop them. You just want to kind of slow them down. You don’t want them to have a huge numbers against us,” Carter said. “Is it what we want to see? You just never know how the game is going to go. I thought the zone really took some of the guys out of it.”
Jerry Evans Jr. scored 16 points and AJ West and Cole Huff both scored 12 for Nevada. The Pack’s fifth starter, Michael Perez, was held to five points but passed out six assists.
Nevada improved to 11-10 overall and 6-2 in Mountain West games while also getting even at 5-5 in contests at Lawlor Events Center this season. Colorado State fell to 12-9, 3-5 in the MWC.
The Pack wraps up a two-game homestand at 3:05 p.m. Saturday against Air Force.