It might be time to change the state song to Home Means Nevada Never Loses in a National Tournament.
The Wolf Pack, playing a Big Sky Conference team at home for the second consecutive game, whipped the Eastern Washington Eagles 85-70 Monday night in the College Basketball Invitational in front of a crowd of 6,053 at Lawlor Events Center.
The Wolf Pack’s reward? Another home game. The Pack, now 21-13, will host Vermont on Wednesday at Lawlor at 7 p.m. in the CBI semifinals. Vermont was a 73-54 winner over Seattle on Monday on the road and is now 23-13 on the year.
“Playing at home in a tournament is real big,” Wolf Pack coach Eric Musselman said. “Guys are not missing school. We don’t have to get on a plane to go somewhere so guys are rested. And our crowds have been amazing.”
Musselman, during one timeout in the second half, walked away from his team’s huddle on the court, made like a cheerleader and started waving his arms in the air to get the crowd excited.
“That was more for them (the crowd) to keep it going,” Musselman said. “The crowd was giving us momentum, giving us enthusiasm and that was just me telling them, ‘We need that. We like that.'”
Musselman also got his team excited.
“It’s fun to see that as a player,” guard D.J. Fenner said. “All of a sudden you hear the crowd screaming and you look over and Coach Muss is yelling at the crowd.”
The Wolf Pack dominated the second half after trailing at the break 45-43. The Pack went on a 13-0 run over the first 5:32 of the second half to take a 56-45 lead as the Eagles missed their first 10 shots. Criswell scored seven of the 13 points during the run and finished with a career-high 32.
“I was real happy about my shot,” Criswell said. “I knew my defense would be there but this year my shot and my form has really struggled. After I saw a couple threes fall I felt real good.”
Criswell was 4-of-7 on 3-pointers, also setting a career high. He was 1-of-5 on threes over his five previous games before Monday.
“T.C. was awesome,” Musselman said. “He scored 32 points but I was most proud of what he did on defense. We put him on (Austin) McBroom in the second half and T.C. shut him down.”
McBroom, the Eagles’ 5-foot-9 point guard, had 17 points in the first half on 8-of-12 shooting. In the second half, with Criswell, following him around the court, McBroom was 0-for-7 from the floor and did not score.
“We just felt that, physically, T.C. could bother him a little bit,” Musselman said.
“I just thought I would slow him down,” Criswell said. “Coach just told me to pick him up full court, send him left and just stay in front of him. I didn’t know he didn’t even score in the second half.”
McBroom wasn’t the only Eagle who had trouble scoring in the second half. The Wolf Pack held Eastern Washington to just 12 points over the first 14:22 of the second half. The Eagles (18-16), who were without Venky Jois (16.4 points, 8.7 rebounds a game) because of a knee injury, ended up with just 25 points and made just 8-of-28 shots from the floor in the second half.
“We just kind of wore down Eastern Washington,” Musselman said.
“We could sense that they were slowing down,” Fenner said. “We were bigger than them. We just grinded them.”
“In the second half we just found out a way to stop them on defense,” Criswell said. “We knew we were going to keep going on offense. We just needed to find a way to stop them on defense and that’s what we did.”
The Eagles never really made a run in the second half. The Pack outscored Eastern Washington 30-12 over the first 13:22 of the second half to take a 73-57 lead and put the game away. Criswell had 13 of the 30 points with Cam Oliver chipping in with six. Lindsey Drew also hit a 3-pointer for the 16-point lead with 6:38 to play.
Fenner, who had four 3-pointers in the 79-75 win over Montana last Wednesday to open the CBI, led the Pack with a career-high nine assists. The junior was just 1-of-7 on 3-pointers but finished with nine points and six rebounds to go along with his nine assists. “I was just finding guys and they would hit (shots),” Fenner said.
The Wolf Pack also enjoyed a 29-9 edge on the boards in the second half and 45-27 for the game. Oliver had a career high 28 points and 14 boards.
“To go plus-20 on the glass in the second half is unheard of,” Musselman said.
Oliver dominated the Eagles, making 12-of-15 shots. He was 10-of-11 on two-point shots and 2-of-4 on threes.
“Cam’s quickness off the ground might be better than anybody in the country,” Musselman said.
Oliver was 7-of-8 from the floor in the first half for 16 points. The 6-foot-8 freshman has now scored in double figures in nine consecutive games. He’s had a double-double in three of his last four games and in nine games this year.
“Coach Muss told us to step on their throats when we got the lead and that’s what we did,” Oliver said. “But we can’t get comfortable now. We have it in our minds that this (the CBI) is something we can win.”
Senior point guard Marqueze Coleman, who missed the win over Montana, returned to the court against Eastern Washington. Coleman played 15 minutes off the bench for two points, three rebounds and three assists. He took just one shot and missed.
“Marqueze gave us 15 important minutes because it allowed us to get guys some rest,” Musselman said. “He did a good job of letting the game come to him.”
The Pack, right now, is content to keep allowing the CBI come to Lawlor Events Center.
“We have a lot of confidence playing at home right now,” Fenner said. “I know we felt really good out there tonight.”