Help is on the way for the Nevada Wolf Pack.
Senior point guard Marqueze Coleman, who has played a total of just 21 minutes over the Wolf Pack’s last six games, is expected to return to the court Monday night against the Eastern Washington Eagles in a second-round College Basketball Invitational game at Lawlor Events Center.
“He’ll be able to provide us some minutes,” Wolf Pack coach Eric Musselman said.
Coleman, who did not play in the Wolf Pack’s 79-75 win over Montana on Wednesday at Lawlor to open the CBI, scored a total of two points with no assists and five turnovers in 21 minutes over two games in the Mountain West tournament in Las Vegas on March 10, 11. The 6-foot-4 senior injured his left ankle early in the second half against Utah State on Feb. 24 after making a 3-pointer.
Musselman, though, wasn’t about to declare his starting point guard totally healthy this week and ready to provide his normal 30-plus minutes and 15.9 scoring average. “There’s a possibility he’ll be able to give us some things,” was all that Musselman would say.
The Wolf Pack offense without Coleman erupted for 52 points in the second half against Montana. D.J. Fenner scored 16 points in the second half, thanks to four 3-pointers, and point guard Lindsey Drew had 14 points after halftime. Fenner tied his career-high with 24 points (done four times before) and the freshman Drew set his career high with 16.
“That second half was the best offense we’ve had all year,” said Musselman, whose Wolf Pack is now 20-13 on the season.
The 40 points from Fenner and Drew were more than they had produced together in the three previous games (36) combined. The Pack shot 58 percent (15-of-26) and made 7-of-11 3-pointers in the second half against Montana with Drew and Fenner (10-of-15 from the floor overall, 6-of-10 on threes) providing the bulk of the production.
The Wolf Pack’s 52 points in the second half are the 10 most in a half in a CBI game in the eight-plus years of the tournament. A large chunk of the Pack offense (43 points, seven 3-pointers) all took place in the last 15 minutes of the game. A 3-pointer by Fenner with 15:03 to go cut the Montana lead to 48-39 and started the Wolf Pack comeback. “I definitely felt good after that first one went down,” Fenner said.
It had been a while since Fenner felt good shooting the ball, especially from 3-point distance. The junior guard was a combined 4-for-24 from the floor (2-of-8 on threes) in two games at the Mountain West tournament. But his shooting troubles really started long before that. Fenner was a combined 25-of-99 (25 percent) from the floor in the seven games previous to the CBI opener against Montana . In the nine games before Montana he was 8-of-44 (18 per cent) on 3 -pointers.
That all changed with 15 minutes to go against Montana. Fenner had four 3-pointers and a mid-range jumper for 14 points over a span of just 5:35 as the Pack rallied from a 48-36 deficit to tie the game at 56-56 with 9:28 to go.
“When the shot feels good I really feel it in my hands,” Fenner said. “I just felt very comfortable.”
The Wolf Pack, Musselman said, might need a similar effort from Fenner on Monday. “We’re going to have to figure out a way to score the ball at a higher rate,” Musselman said. “They (Eastern Washington) space the floor phenomenally and they share the ball. They have three or four 3-point shooters on the floor at all times. We’re going to have to play much better defensively than we did against Montana.”
Eastern Washington (18-15) beat Pepperdine 79-72 on Wednesday in its first CBI game. The Eagles were 14-of-32 on 3-pointers. “They can score the ball real well,” Wolf Pack center Cameron Oliver said. “They have a lot of good shooters.”
“They look a lot better on film than their record looks,” Fenner said.
The Eagles, which won the Big Sky tournament last season and lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament (84-74 to Georgetown), are led by 5-foot-9 guard Austin McBroom. McBroom, who scored 24 points against Pepperdine with six 3-pointers, is in his first year at Eastern Washington after two years at Saint Louis. McBroom is averaging 21.1 points a game and has five 30-plus point games and is shooting 41 percent (114-of-277) on threes.
McBroom, though, is far from alone when it comes to scoring for the Eagles. Venky Jois, a 6-8 senior, is averaging 16.4 points and 8.7 rebounds this year. Jois only played 12 minutes against Pepperdine because of a sore knee but is expected to play on Monday. Felix Von Hoffe, a 6-5 junior, averages 12.8 points while Bogdan Bliznyuk, a 6-6 sophomore from Ukraine, is averaging 12.6 points and 6.9 boards. Bliznyuk had 25 points against Pepperdine and Von Hoffe had four threes.
“They do a lot of drive and kicks for threes,” Musselman said. “We have to play defense at a high level. We have to keep the ball in front of us and close out with high hands on their 3-point shooting.”
The Wolf Pack, like the other seven teams still alive in the CBI, will have to win four more games to win the tournament. A win on Monday will send the Pack into the semifinals on Wednesday. The championship round is a best-of-three series Match 28, 30 and (if necessary) April 1.
The other quarterfinal CBI matchups are Duquesne (18-16) at Morehead State (21-12), UNC-Greensboro (16-18) at Ohio (23-11) and Vermont (23-13) at Seattle (16-16). Past CBI champions are Tulsa (2008), Oregon State (2009), Virginia Commonwealth (2010), Oregon (2011), Pittsburgh (2012), Santa Clara (2013), Siena (2014) and Loyola Chicago (2015).
“The biggest thing right now is just playing at this time of year,” Fenner said. “The last two years I’ve been on spring break by now.”
“A lot of teams don’t have an opportunity to win a ring this year,” Oliver said. “That’s what I want. I just want to win a championship.”
“It’s just a great honor to be able to keep playing,” Musselman said. “Our guys had a sincere letdown after the Mountain West tournament. But they are overly excited about this tournament now.”