D.J. Fenner believes the Nevada Wolf Pack beat the Santa Clara Broncos 72-69 Friday night at Lawlor Events Center in large part because of what they endured last spring and summer.
“It all goes back to all those workouts we had prior to the season,” said Fenner, who had 17 points, eight rebounds and three assists. “We’re facing some adversity now but the reason we got up at 6 a.m. every morning to work out was for that adversity.”
The Wolf Pack, now 8-3 and winners of three in a row, beat the Broncos (4-8) without two players who started their last game a week ago against Drake. Senior center A.J. West quit the team on Tuesday and senior guard Tyron Criswell had to leave the game on Friday in the first half with a knee injury. Backup guard Juwan Anderson also played just one minute on Friday because of a lingering knee injury.
“We came into the season knowing we lacked depth,” Musselman said. We now need people to step up. Next man up.”
Criswell, Musselman said, won’t play in the Wolf Pack’s next game at Wichita State on Tuesday and could miss an extended amount of time. “He’ll be out a while,” Musselman said. “We’re concerned.”
“We’re tough competitors,” said guard Marqueze Coleman, who had a team-high 18 points. “I’ve been saying that all year. To show the resiliency we showed tonight is huge. We can use this moving forward the whole year.”
“We’re real proud of each other,” Fenner said.
Santa Clara, which lost its first seven games of the year and came to Lawlor with a four-game winning streak, took a 67-65 lead with 3:11 to play on a lay-up by K.J. Feagin. Coleman then tied the game on a lay-up off a feed from Lindsey Drew and gave the Pack a 70-67 lead on a three-point play with 2:26 left. “Marqueze at one point said, ‘I’m just going to attack the rim,’” Musselman said.
A lay-up by Jared Brownridge, who finished with a game-high 29 points, cut the Pack lead to 70-69 with two minutes to play and the Broncos got the ball back, still down one, after two missed shots by the Pack’s Eric Cooper and a turnover by Fenner.
Brownridge, who scored 18 points in the second half, attacked the rim but missed a shot right n front of the basket. Cameron Oliver pulled down the game-saving rebound with 10 seconds to play and was fouled by Brownridge.
“I’ve seen a lot of basketball games,” Musselman said with a smile. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a guy who was going to the line, wave his arms and ask the crowd to stand.”
Oliver, who waved his arms after a timeout as he walked to the line, prompting the crowd of 5,813 to stand and cheer, made both of his free throws to give the Pack a 72-69 lead. The 6-foot-8 Oliver who has to take up the bulk of the slack with the absence of West, had 11 points and 10 rebounds for his first career double-double in 31 minutes.
The Pack secured the victory as Feagin missed a 3-pointer with three seconds to go and Brownridge missed a desperation, wild 3-point attempt off the rebound as time expired. Musselman said he wasn’t surprised Feagin, who scored just four points and missed his only 3-point attempt before his final shot, took the 3-pointer that could have tied the game. Brownridge was 4-of-8 from beyond the arc at the time. “Lindsey (Drew) tried to deny (Brownridge),” Musselman. “I just told him, ‘Go nose to nose with him.’”
Musselman said Drew’s defense on Brown ridge “was the key to the game,” despite Brownridge scoring 29 points. “He did a phenomenal job on him,” Musselman said.
Musselman said Brownridge, who scored 44 points against Arizona earlier this season, was Drew’s main responsibility. “We would switch off on him once in a while,” Musselman said. “But with about three-and-a-half minutes to go, Lindsey just said, ‘Let’s not switch anymore. I’ll fight over the top and get him.’”
“He’s not that fast,” said Fenner of Brownridge. “But he moves a lot. He’s shifty. Lindsey did an amazing job on him.”
With West gone and Criswell on crutches in the second half Musselman had to play four players (Oliver, Coleman, Drew, Fenner) over 30 minutes and Cooper played 29 off the bench. It was the first time four Pack players played 30 or more minutes since the 85-82 overtime win at Pacific in the fourth game of the year. But despite the big minutes by four starters, Musselman credited the bench for winning the game. The Pack bench, led by Cooper and Lucas Stivrins, outscored Santa Clara’s bench 21-7.
“The bench is huge for us,” Fenner said. “That is how we are becoming a good team overall.”
Cooper had three 3-pointers and scored 11 points. Stivrins scored seven points and had six rebounds in 16 minutes off the bench. Stivrins also hit a jumper at the buzzer to give the Wolf Pack a 39-33 halftime lead. “It’s incredible what Luke did for us,” Musselman said. “We needed him tonight.”
Wichita State is the Wolf Pack’s last non-conference opponent before opening Mountain West play at New Mexico on De. 30. The Wolf Pack also doesn’t return to Lawlor Events Center until Jan. 2 when it hosts Mountain West foe Wyoming.
“This is a unique and fun group now,” Musselman said of his depleted roster. We’ve been in a lot of close games but because of the competitive nature of this group, I would argue that we play as hard as any team in the country. We don’t play the best of any team but nobody plays harder than this team.”