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Nevada challenged, and responds in a big way vs. Fresno State (photos)

By Michael Smyth

The Nevada Wolf Pack defeated the visiting Fresno State Bulldogs (13-5, 3-2 MW) 77-73 in Mountain West Conference play Friday night at Lawlor Events Center.

The Wolf Pack, (9-7, 3-2 MW) took the floor after a loss to Wyoming on Monday that left head coach Steve Alford somewhat exasperated by his team’s effort and attitude when faced with adversity. The Bulldogs weren’t about to present an easy get-right game either, entering the contest ranked second in the nation in scoring defense.

Nevada began the game with a commitment to do what they failed to do against Wyoming: use their size and get the ball inside. They achieved it, sort of.

Thanks to four turnovers in the first four minutes, they failed to convert on some open chances down low and the Wolf Pack found themselves in a familiar place trailing early in the game.

The Bulldogs’ largest lead of the night occurred just six minutes in on a three-pointer by Fresno State’s top scorer, Orlando Robinson. The seven-foot junior from Las Vegas, who averages 19 points and nine rebounds per game, was well on his way to his average with 16 points and five rebounds in the first half.

After the coach’s comments on Monday the big question was, with things not going their way early, how would the Wolf Pack respond?

Nevada did not splinter. They answered the bell, stayed together and started a steady climb back.

Kenan Blackshear adds to his season-high 16 points in Nevada’s 77-73 victory over Fresno State on Jan. 21, 2022 at Lawlor Events Center (Michael Smyth / This is Reno)

Kenan Blackshear was a physical force at both ends every time he was on the floor, and his nine first half points on 4-of-5 shooting kept the game from getting away. When Grant Sherfield canned his second triple of the night at the buzzer, the Silver and Blue trailed by only one, 37-36 at the break.

Out of the locker room Fresno State’s Isaiah Hill immediately hit a three-pointer to push the lead to 40-36, but Nevada would go on a 6-0 run to gain a 43-40 advantage on a pair of Will Baker baskets. The run also included two missed dunks by the Wolf Pack. An Anthony Holland three-pointer knotted things at 43-43 with 15:41 to play.

It was at this point that the Wolf Pack began to take control. Back-to-back triples from Blackshear and Sherfield got Nevada back in front 50-47. Nevada’s Daniel Foster sacrificed his body yet again taking another charge, followed by back-to-back steals by Desmond Cambridge Jr. resulting in a quick five points.

After another defensive stop, Grant Sherfield somehow found himself all alone beyond the three-point line and calmly torched the twine to cap a 12-0 run to give Nevada a 59-47 lead with 11:05 remaining and Lawlor was rocking.

After a pretty easy first half, Fresno State’s Robinson drew more attention from the Nevada defense any time he turned toward the rim. The Bulldogs’ big man didn’t record a second half bucket for over 11 minutes, but he would eventually get untracked and finish with 26 points and 12 boards to lead Fresno State.

Nevada’s commitment to a more physical style resulted in getting them in the double bonus as Fresno State committed its 10th team foul with six minutes left, putting them in an automatic two-shot situation.

The Bulldogs refused to go away, however.

A triple from Isaiah Hill, and a free throw from Robinson made it 67-60 at 3:47. When Hill (22 points on 5-of-8 from deep) hit his third triple of the half, Fresno State had fought back within six at 72-66 with 2:21 on the clock.

Kenan Blackshear, who scored a season-high 16 points, hauled down a huge offensive rebound with 32 seconds left, and Sherfield eventually converted it into a bucket to push the lead to 76-69.

Daniel Foster fouled Hill on the next Bulldog possession after yet another made three, and his completion of the four-point play made it a nail-biter at 76-73 with 19.9 seconds remaining.

A technical foul was called on the Bulldog bench but Sherfield missed the chance to push the lead to four, capping a horrendous night at the line for Nevada, making only 14-of-29 attempts.

The Nevada defense however, managed to hold off Fresno State’s desperate flurry to cap the win.

Next up for the Wolf Pack: Nevada travels to Colorado State, Tuesday at 8 p.m. before returning home to face Utah State Jan. 29 at 7p.m.

Notes

  • Nevada turned the ball over 11 times in the first half, but only once in the second half.
  • Nevada forced 24 Bulldog turnovers.
  • The Wolf Pack had a season-high 13 steals.
  • Will Baker finished with 13 points and five boards, including a pair of timely three-pointers.
  • Grant Sherfield had 17 points, five rebounds, seven assists, and only one turnover in 39 minutes
  • Nevada dominated points in the paint 34-22.

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