The Nevada Wolf Pack felt like it was involved in a heavyweight championship fight Wednesday night.
“It was like a good street fight out there,” guard D.J. Fenner said. “And we weren’t going to back down.”
The Wolf Pack landed more punches to beat the Morehead State Eagles 77-68 in front of a crowd of 7,431 fans at Lawlor Events Center to stay alive in the College Basketball Invitational championship series. The win evened the best-of-three series at a game apiece with the deciding game on Friday night (6 p.m.) at Lawlor Events Center.
“We’re going to have our hands full Friday night,” Pack coach Eric Musselman said. “And they are going to have their hands full.”
Both the Eagles and Wolf Pack clearly had their hands full on Wednesday. The two teams combined for 49 personal fouls, four technical fouls and 37 turnovers.
“The student athletes on these two teams are really competing,” Musselman said. “Anytime you play in a series like this that’s what happens. You get to understand their personnel and their sets. You know what they are going to do and it’s about adjustments. Both teams are laying it on the line.”
“It’s going to get chippy out there,” said Fenner, who scored a game-high 26 points. “That’s what happens when you compete. You know, we have some tough kids on this team. When you hit us in the mouth, we’re going to hit back. At Morehead (an 86-83 Pack loss on Monday) they hit us in the mouth and we didn’t respond. We weren’t going to let that happen again.”
Wolf Pack freshman center Cameron Oliver, who spent the game in the paint battling the aggressive Eagles, finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds. “I love physical games,” Oliver said. “I grew up in Oakland and Sacramento. We didn’t call fouls in the gym. Those types of games bring out your skill set more.”
The Wolf Pack (23-14) showed off its new-found shooting skills once again in evening this CBI series. The Pack shot 50 percent (22-of-44) overall and was 6-of-10 on 3-pointers. The Pack won the game beyond the arc as Morehead State missed 15 of its 16 3-point attempts.
“It was a little bit of both,” said Musselman when asked if Morehead State’s 3-point troubles were because of poor shooting or good Pack defense. “But, defensively, we did what we had to do. We held them to (38 percent) shooting overall, which is hard to do.”
The Wolf Pack led for the final 30:28, after a Tyron Criswell layup gave them a 14-12 lead with 10:28 to go in the first half. Oliver hit a jumper in the paint, Fenner added two free throws and Marqueze Coleman had a free throw as the Pack completed a 7-0 run to take a 19-12 lead with 7:44 to go in the opening half. Morehead State (23-13) would never get closer than three points the rest of the game.
The Pack led 33-27 at the half but a layup by Morehead’s Xavier Moon cut the Pack lead to just 40-37 with 16:32 to go. The Wolf Pack then went on a 9-0 run to take control of the game. Oliver scored six points during the run on a 3-pointer, a 10-foot jumper and a free throw. Fenner capped off the run with a 3-pointer for a 49-37 lead with 14:13 to play.
Fenner, who was 7-of-12 from the floor, also hit a short jumper in the paint for a 55-43 lead with 9:36 to go and he added two free throws for a 57-47 lead a minute later. Freshman guard Lindsey Drew, who had seven points, five boards, three assists, two steals and a block, also had a key jumper from near the free throw line for a 59-47 lead with 8:26 to play. “I was just finding my spots,” said Fenner, who was 10-of-11 from the free throw line. “Before the game that’s what I worked on, trying to get to the basket, hoping to draw a foul. “
A jumper by Fenner gave the Wolf Pack a seemingly comfortable 61-49 lead with 7:37 to play. But Morehead State wouldn’t go away. The Eagles went on an 8-0 run, cutting the Pack lead to just 61-57 with 6:34 left. DeJuan Marrero (13 points) had a layup, Lamontray Harris had a 3-point play on a short jumper in the paint and a free throw and Corban Collins drained a 3-pointer. Another jumper in the paint by Brent Arrington (16 points) also cut the Pack lead to just 62-59 with 4:26 to play.
“Both teams played very, very hard,” Musselman said. “It was obviously a very physical game.”
Coleman, who scored 10 points in 27 minutes, hit his only 3-point attempt for a 66-60 Pack lead with just under three minutes to play. Arrington, who was just 7-of-20 from the floor, then cut the Pack lead to 66-62 with 2:38 to go but Fenner responded with his second 3-pointer of the night for a 69-62 Pack advantage with 2:06 to play.
The Wolf Pack, which struggled from the free throw line most of the night, then put the game away at the line, converting 8-of-10 in the final 1:38. The Pack, though, finished just 27-of-42 (64 per cent) from the line for the game. Morehead State was even worse at 13-of-24 (54 per cent).
The game seemed to be a struggle all night long for both teams. “We have to do a better job of converting from the free throw line,” Musselman said. “And we can’t turn the ball over 21 times like we did. But they are real physical.”
The Wolf Pack, which had a slight (40-39) edge on the boards, refused to back down from the aggressive Eagles.
“Both these teams like to play defense,” Drew said. “When you get two teams together who like to play like that, it’s bound to get rough. But I love games like that. It’s all about battling for what you love.”