"It's a good win, that's a good team," Nevada's Luke Babbitt said. "They've beaten UCLA, they beat Minnesota. We had a lot of respect for them, so that's a good win."
Nevada started off with a 4-0 lead over the Pilots on back-to-back buckets by Armon Johnson and Brandon Fields to start the night on a quick run for Nevada.
The Pilots (7-5) caught up, scoring 10 straight points for a 10-4 advantage with 17:21 left in the half.
"It was possession by possession it was very physical," Nevada coach David Carter said. "The key was not turning the ball over, getting stops when you needed to especially on our home floor. We did get frustrated but I thought we got our composure and finished the game."
With the win, Nevada remains a perfect 7-0 at home, winning seven of its last eight games to close out preseason play.
Nevada (8-5) retook the lead, 14-12 on the three by Fields but lost its momentum and the Pilots hit four straight for a 20-14 lead. The squads finally got some scoring consistency and but Portland continued to push ahead, tying its largest lead of the game at six, ahead 27-21 on a layup by Robin Smeulders.
Nevada finished the last 7:11 of the half by outscoring Portland 13-4. Portland's Nik Raivio scored with 4:21 left for a 31-25 lead but it was the last basket for the Pilots in the half.
Fields hit the first of two free throws with four minutes left, followed by a jumper nearly a minute later to pull within three, 31-28. Babbitt hit a trey, followed by a trey from Fields with 1:12 left to go ahead 34-31. Dario Hunt tipped in a shot in the waning seconds of the period capping a nine-point run to take a 36-31 lead into the second half.
The five-point lead that Nevada earned at the end of the first half was the glue of the squad's win, and Nevada never gave up the edge to the Pilots.
"To start the half, I thought we always come out a little sluggish but I thought we picked up the intensity, got a couple steals, we picked it up a little bit and I thought we caught them off guard," Carter said.
Nevada's defense did help out its offense to start the second half, scoring four points off of steals, separated by a fast break by Fields for its first double-digit lead of that game, 42-31 spanning its run to 17-0 over the end of the first and start of the second half.
"That was the key to the whole night I think was our defense," Babbitt said. "They have a really balanced team over there they have everything you look for in a basketball team. They're inside, outside, so if we were going to win tonight, we knew it had to be with defense."
Back-to-back threes by Joey Shaw then Babbitt with 14 minutes left to play put Nevada up 52-41. Nevada struck up a quick 7-0 run to get its biggest lead of the game at 12, 29-47 with 9:01 left on the game clock.
"Momentum was huge for us," Johnson said. "Coming out of the first, the team just turned it up, found the extra boost and that was huge for us. And to start off the second half, our coach has been harping on us to learn to start up the second half, because that's a place we've been bad at. We worked on that and we did a great job of that tonight."
Babbitt sank a baseline jumper for a 63-56 lead with just under five minutes to go and the rest of the game turned into foul-a-palooza with Portland running out of time. Nevada attempted 17 free throws in the second half alone, all of which came in the last three and a half minutes. Nevada shot 70.4 percent from the stripe.
Four of Nevada's starters were in double digits Monday. Babbitt led with 22. Fields and Johnson had 17 and 16 respectively and Shaw chipped in 14 in the winning effort. Babbitt also had seven boards, three assists and five steals.
For Portland, Smeulders had a team-high 22 points. Jared Stohl had 14 points on 4 of 9 shooting from three-point range. Ethan Niedermeyer added 11 points for the Pilots.
"This was a perfect game to prepare us for conference play," Johnson said. "I give credit to the coaching staff for scheduling it and knowing that we got the victory. We know that we can play at this level, it's a big boost for us."
Momentum was huge for the Pack who thrived off of scoring spurts en route to the 78-69 win as the squad heads into league play.
Nevada will start off the WAC with games at Louisiana Tech on Jan. 2nd followed by a trip to New Mexico State on the 4th. The Wolf Pack returns to Lawlor on Jan. 9 to take on San Jose State, the start of three straight home games.
"Starting tomorrow we're going to be thinking about winning the conference and taking it one game at a time," Babbitt said.