Story and Photos by Mike Smyth
Grant Sherfield scored 20 of his game-high 24 points in the second half, and a stout defensive effort propelled the Nevada Wolf Pack to a 68-63 victory over the Loyola Marymount Lions Saturday evening at Lawlor Events Center.
The Wolf Pack (6-4, 0-0 MW) took the floor on a four-game win streak in which their starting back court had simply worn down, and then overwhelmed opponents. Grant Sherfield and Desmond Cambridge Jr. had both eclipsed the 20-point mark in each of the last four contests. But this game would be a physical affair from the start.
“We’ve played some ‘old’ teams early in the season and Loyola was another one with a lot of experience and very physical,” said head coach Steve Alford. “I’m proud of the way we fought, and our guys made some key plays down the stretch.”
A focus on close checking defense by both teams and a tightly officiated first half resulted in a combined 21 team fouls, with the Lions leading the way with 11. Loyola Marymount also showed some muscle out-rebounding Nevada 20-17.
“We haven’t been out-rebounded in a while, so we’ll have a look at that,” said Alford.
Loyola Marymount’s (6-4) offense revolves around senior forward Eli Scott, the Lions’ Swiss army knife at 6-5 and 232 lbs. But the combination of a pair of early personal fouls and a steady diet of double-teams by the Wolf Pack rendered his impact minimal on 1-of-6 from the field and six points in the first half.
Grant Sherfield was similarly held in check on 1-for-6 shooting, as the Lions cut off his routes and forced him into tough shots resulting in only four points.
“Grant was getting trapped a lot in the first half,” said Alford.
Seven-foot Will Baker (13 points, 6 rebounds) took advantage of some mismatches inside to lead the Pack at halftime with nine points, including a three-pointer that gave Nevada it’s largest lead of the half at 35-26 with 1:28 remaining.
Nevada led 35-28 at the break.
A three-pointer from Keli Leaupepe, a 6-6, 245-lb. forward from Melbourne, Australia to start the half drew the Lions back within four at 35-31.
Leaupepe, nicknamed “Mullet,” would prove to be a difficult problem for the Pack to solve all night. Showing a deft touch from beyond the arc in addition to a power game inside, he made key shot after key shot to keep the Lions within striking distance.
Every time the Pack stretched their lead a bit and threatened to take control, there was the junior from down under canning another triple, including giving Loyola Marymount the lead with 6:08 left at 56-55, and getting them back within two 61-59 at the 3:28 mark.
Leaupepe led the Lions with 20 points on 7-of-10 from the field and 5-of-7 from beyond the arc, career highs in made baskets and triples.
Loyola Marymount continued to try and get the ball in to Eli Scott in the second half, but Warren Washington, Tre Coleman, and in particular Kenan Blackshear continually frustrated Scott into turnovers (6) and outbursts directed to the officials with their positioning and physical play.
Nevada shot just 30% as a team in the second half, with only Sherfield making that number as high as it was with 5-of-8 from the field and hitting three triples. The junior guard also went 9-of-10 from the free throw line, a key in securing the victory.
“I don’t think they scored in the last minute. We guarded, we protected the ball, and we made our foul shots,” said Sherfield.
The Nevada defense held the Lions scoreless the last 1:39 and allowed just two Loyola Marymount field goals in the final six minutes.
Head coach Steve Alford liked the progress his team showed with the victory.
“Tonight we showed our depth and some growth as a team with Dez (4-12, fouled out) having a tough night. Early in the season if Grant or Dez had a tough night, we didn’t win,” he said.
Next up for the Wolf Pack: Grand Canyon at Lawlor Events Center, Tuesday at 7 p.m.
- The Wolf Pack is 5-0 this season when holding an opponent to under 70 points. Nevada has held each of its past four opponents under the 70-point mark.
- Nevada was out-rebounded 40-34. It was the second time this season they lost the battle on the glass but still won.
- Nevada rolled out a starting five of Grant Sherfield, Desmond Cambridge Jr., Kenan Blackshear, Warren Washington and Will Baker for the first time this season.
- Nevada’s 19 field goals were a season low.