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Nevada basketball gets validation win Monday at Lawlor (photos)

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If you’ve been sitting on your hands wondering if you should be coming out and supporting a young Nevada Wolf Pack Basketball team this season, Monday night you got your answer.

Buy some tickets. These kids can hang, and they just might do something special this season.

The Wolf Pack stared down a quality, veteran opponent on Monday night at Lawlor Events Center and stuffed them back on their bus with a 78-60 beat down of the visiting Sam Houston State Bearkats to move to 7-1.

Nevada returned home off a 3-1 road trip that saw them notch victories over Texas-Arlington, Tulane and Akron. The latter two wins coming on Grand Cayman in the Grand Cayman Classic, where they also suffered their only loss of the season in overtime to eventual tournament champion Kansas State.

“Really proud of the guys, huge win,” said head coach Steve Alford. “We were kind of calling this the validation game after coming off a four-game road trip and getting three wins.”

The Wolf Pack took the floor at Lawlor Events Center with only eight healthy bodies, losing K.J. Hymes (back) and Daniel Foster (ankle) early on the road trip and facing their toughest test yet of the young season in an undefeated (6-0) Sam Houston State team.

The senior-heavy Kats lineup arrived with road victories over Power-Five opponents Oklahoma and Utah, and as the second ranked defensive team in the nation had held every opponent under 55 points.

Nevada has produced wins this season with a simple recipe of suffocating defense, holding teams under their seasonal averages, and timely scoring. On Monday night, they didn’t even wait to be timely, instead demolishing the second ranked defensive team in the nation 49-32 in the second half.

The first half of play featured both teams playing their brand of basketball in a fast-paced and physical game. The veteran Sam Houston team had a notion that they could physically intimidate the Wolf Pack and jumped out to a 14-8 lead six minutes into the game.

But this Nevada squad is proving to have an awful lot of fight in them after playing some scrappy games on Grand Cayman, and refused to back down.

The Wolf Pack organized their defense, stayed patient on offense and chipped away, eventually taking a 24-20 lead with 3:35 left in the half and one had the sense that the Bearkats plan to simply out-muscle Nevada was not going as planned.

The intensity on both sides resulted in some chippy play, with the teams combining for three technical fouls in a first half that ended with Nevada in front 29-28.

Kenan Blackshear jumps through the defense  in Nevada’s 78-60 victory vs Sam Houston State at Lawlor Events Center on 11.28.22 (Michael Smyth / This is Reno)
Kenan Blackshear jumps through the defense in Nevada’s 78-60 victory vs Sam Houston State at Lawlor Events Center on 11.28.22 (Michael Smyth / This is Reno)

“We knew it was going to be a hard contest, the guys just kept battling and fighting,” said Alford. “With Kenan in foul trouble early we played point guard by committee. We’ve had a lot of adversity in a lot of games already and I love how this team has handled it. They’re a very together group and its fun to see, and it’s fun to coach.”

Nevada came out of the locker room ready for more physicality.

The defense continued their in-your-face approach, frustrating the high-scoring Bearkats and forcing poor shots and fouls while pushing the pace up the floor on the offensive end. By swinging the ball back and forth across the court, they got the Bearkat defense off their spots and took advantage of the openings.

“In the second we had a lot of ball reversals and were making them work a lot harder than I think other teams had,” said redshirt freshman forward Nick Davidson.

Center Will Baker’s dunk with 15:04 left gave Nevada a 10-point advantage at 43-33 and one could see that the Bearkats had the sense they had stepped into the wrong den.

Jarod Lucas and Kenan Blackshear led all scorers with 16 points each and continue to be the top offensive forces. But Monday was a balanced attack with Lucas, Blackshear, Tre’ Coleman, Will Baker, and Nick Davidson all scoring in double figures and Darrion Williams chipping in nine points. Lucas had his 16 on just seven shots.

Jarod Lucas gets fouled on this jumper in Nevada’s 78-60 victory vs Sam Houston State at Lawlor Events Center on 11.28.22 (Michael Smyth / This is Reno)

Alford remarked about the team’s balance. “Just really pleased with how we’re sharing it, thinking team over self, serving each other. That’s not a stat sheet you saw last year,” he said.

The 6-foot-6, 210 lb. Williams might have been the most impressive player on the floor Monday. The true freshman from Las Vegas amassed 10 rebounds, five assists and two steals in 34 minutes.

Williams’ second steal eventually ended up in the capable hands of Jarod Lucas for a layup and a 56-39 advantage with 10:49 left.

The Bearkats made a push with a 6-0 run to make it 58-45 with 8:34 left, but Nevada answered with an 11-4 run over the next four minutes to push the lead to 69-49 and put the game away.

Next up: Nevada hits the road with stops at Loyola Marymount, Pepperdine and Oregon. The Wolf Pack will return home on Dec. 14 to host UC San Diego at 7 p.m.

Notes

  • The Wolf Pack defense held the Bearkats top two scorers to 12 points on 4-of-18 shooting.
  • Will Baker injured his ankle late in the first half but returned in the second half and finished with 14 points, seven rebounds, two blocks, two steals, and two assists. Baker committed just one personal foul.
  • Nevada dished out 17 assists to Sam Houston’s 7.
  • The Wolf Pack had 34 free throw attempts to the Bearkats 26.
  • Sam Houston came in forcing 20.5 turnovers per game. The Wolf Pack had just 10 turnovers.
  • Nevada was outrebounded 37-36.
  • To add to the entertainment, a trio of bats whizzed around Lawlor Events Center throughout the game. One even buzzed right between Kenan Blackshear’s legs.

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Michael Smyth
Michael Smyth
Michael Smyth is a writer and photographer who moved to Reno from the Bay Area in 2007. Michael retired from a corporate road-warrior sales career in 2017 where he wrote freelance small-venue music reviews on the side to keep his sanity on the road. When he isn't covering a concert or sporting event he might be found concocting a salsa recipe, throwing barbless flies in search of trout, or recapturing the skip-and-stop wedge shot of his youth.

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