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Wolf Pack falls in overtime to UNLV in regular season finale (photos)

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The Nevada Wolf Pack had an opportunity to realize several high achievements that seemed impossible for a team picked to finish ninth in the Mountain West in preseason polls. Better yet they had a chance to do it all against their rivals from Southern Nevada on Saturday afternoon in front of a boisterous sellout crowd at Lawlor Events Center.

A home victory over the UNLV Rebels would mean a perfect 15-0 home record, a top-three seed in the Mountain West conference tournament, and a high probability of an NCAA Tournament at-large berth with a win in the first round of the MW tourney.

But Nevada (22-9, 12-6 MW) would achieve none of those things as the secret sauce they’d relied on all season as the #2 ranked free throw shooting team in the country with a make percentage of 79.6, would have a positively abysmal night at the charity stripe missing 12 free throws (23-of-35, 65.7%) in a two-point overtime loss to UNLV (18-12, 7-11 MW) 69-67.

Despite not converting a field goal in the last 5:23 of regulation time, it was Nevada’s collapse at the line, going 5-of-12 combined in the last 3:30 of regulation and 5:00 of OT that doomed them.

Head coach Steve Alford talked in the press room in the aftermath. “I thought we really defended well in the second half and then the last four minutes and overtime we were brutal defensively.”

Alford added, “They’re not playing for anything. You know the pressure was on us and I think we had some guys feel that, and that’s what you go through. You go through the season and set yourself up for these opportunities but also the pressure increases.”

When center Will Baker, who enjoyed a break-out season was asked how he felt after the loss he replied, almost inaudibly, “Low, maybe as low as I’ve ever been.” 

Kenan Blackshear kept staring at the stat sheet in front of him in disbelief. “I, I don’t really know what to say,” he said looking truly perplexed. 

Tre’ Coleman, a defensive stalwart all year simply stared forward, deflated and exhausted. 

The opening half of basketball featured scoring runs and intense defense from both squads. The Rebels opened the game with a 13-0 run on the strength of three triples and a layup in the opening two minutes fueled by Nevada going 0-for-four from the field with a pair of Will Baker turnovers.

The Pack would settle down and push back with a 12-0 run of their own and with 10:37 to play in the half Jarod Lucas canned a three-pointer to draw the teams even at 15-15.

The energy expended to overcome the poor start seemed to take a little out the Wolf Pack however and they would only muster six points the rest of the half, going without a field goal in the last seven minutes.

Nevada headed to the locker room with their second lowest scoring half of the season, shooting an anemic 29%, and trailing by ten at 31-21. UNLV’s Elijah Harkless led the Rebels with 17.

The Wolf pack took the floor for their final half of the season on their home floor looking like a team that knew it needed a win in the worst way. 

Jarod Lucas hit his first two shots and the Pack turned up the aggression on both ends of the floor resulting in either open looks or UNLV fouls. With 15:00 remaining Nevada knotted it at 35-35 on a second chance put-back from Nick Davidson completing a 14-4 run.

Both teams dug in for the next five minutes and points were paid for with a pound of flesh. With just over 10 minutes left in regulation Nevada clung to a narrow one-point margin at 41-40. 

UNLV though, had a problem. They’d racked up 10 team fouls and the man who had basically kept them in the game scoring 21 of their 42 points, Elijah Harkless, was headed to the bench with his fourth personal foul.

Everything on paper at that point favored Nevada taking control defensively and capitalizing at the free throw line, a recipe that had worked again and again all season. Getting that 15th home win for a perfect home record, and likely securing an NCAA Tournament bid appeared within reach. 

But cliché as it may be, it’s true that games aren’t won on paper.

The Wolf Pack Mens’s Basketball Team, despite being short on veteran experience and almost without explanation had made a living playing well in the game’s final eight minutes to the point of almost being a mantra in the postgame press exchanges with Steve Alford, was about to run out of magic.

Saturday afternoon at the under-eight-minute media timeout Nevada held a three-point lead, though UNLV’s Luis Rodriguez had a one-and-one free throw opportunity awaiting him out of the timeout. Rodriguez potted both attempts to pull within one at 45-44.

The next four and a half minutes looked like another repeat of the under-eight mantra. The Pack outscored UNLV 7-2 and at the under-three-minute media timeout held a 53-46 lead with 3:36 remaining. And that’s when Nevada, who had been so good down the stretch nearly all season finally collapsed.

Tre’ Coleman missed both of his free throw attempts coming out of the timeout. Will Baker committed an offensive foul on their next possession. 

Nick Davidson made one-of-two free throws to push the lead to 54-46 with 2:27 left. 

UNLV then converted a 3rd-chance bucket after two offensive rebounds by David Muoka resulted in a Justin Webster three-pointer, and another offensive rebound on the next possession was converted into a dunk by Rodriguez and suddenly with 1:28 left Nevada’s lead was down to three at 54-51.

Coleman was fouled on the ensuing inbound with a chance to push Nevada’s lead back to five points. Instead, he missed both free throw attempts again. The Rebels immediately pushed the ball up the floor to a wide-open Harkless who knocked down a triple for his game-high 24th point and the lead was gone. With 1:04 left Nevada called timeout with the score 54-54.

Jared Lucas drove the lane and drew Harkless’ fifth foul, sending seemingly UNLV’s best hope for an upset to the bench for the final minute and beyond.

Lucas stopped the bleeding, converting both shots for a two-point lead 56-54 and Nevada would hold the Rebels to a missed jumper on the other end. After freshman-of-the-year candidate Darrion Williams pulled down his team-high 12th rebound Steve Alford called timeout with 32 seconds left. It still seemed as if Nevada had a decided advantage.

Kenan Blackshear had been the man to step up and make the big shot late all season. He’d get his chance again with a jumper in the paint but couldn’t get it to go. UNLV broke down court after the defensive rebound and Nevada lost track of Rodriguez who tied the game at 56-56 with a layup with 10 seconds on the clock, stunning the crowd in the process.

Blackshear still had a chance to cap a storybook home season when he got the ball along the baseline for a fadeaway 10-footer at the buzzer for the win. When it came up short Nevada had blown an eight-point lead in the final 2:28 and they would have to try and get the 15th home win in the five-minute overtime.

Jarod Lucas hit a jumper for his team-high 23rd point to give Nevada the lead with 4:06 remaining in OT. But UNLV played like a team with nothing to lose and burned the Wolf Pack on three straight possessions for layups, two of them by sophomore Jackie Johnson III who frankly just blew by the Wolf Pack defense with pure speed, to give the Rebels 62-60 advantage.

Williams would tie it at 62-62 but UNLV would reclaim the lead on a Webster jumper. 

Blackshear answered hitting a deep three-pointer to give Nevada its last lead of the afternoon at 65-64 but Johnson would make his third-straight and UNLV’s fifth-straight shot attempt in OT, converting a triple for a 67-65 UNLV lead with 43 seconds left.

Blackshear drove the lane on Nevada’s next possession, drawing contact but could only convert one of two free throws, continuing an unlikely theme for a team that had done so much damage at the line all season. 

Lucas then fouled Rodriguez who calmly made both of his attempts from the charity stripe to push the lead to three 69-66. 

With the three-point lead, UNLV fouled Blackshear before Nevada could get off a three-point attempt to tie the game. Blackshear could only convert one of two again leaving Nevada trailing by a pair with seven seconds left.

Darrion Williams then made yet another heads-up defensive play, tieing up UNLV’s Shane Nowell on the inbound for a quick-whistle held ball with the possession arrow pointing Nevada’s way. With the ball on the baseline in the offensive end and five seconds left everyone in the building sensed yet another heart-stopping finish and a win. 

Williams received the ball on the inbound and drove to the basket. He had a good look, but his contested layup attempt was just a shade too strong and caromed off the back rim. 

UNLV rebounded the ball as the horn sounded and the Wolf Pack’s perfect home record, a top-three seed in the Mountain West Tournament, and possibly an NCAA Tournament bid, all of which a week ago was almost assured on paper, burned up right before the eyes of the first sellout crowd since 2019.

Next up: Nevada travels to Las Vegas as the #4 seed taking on #5 seed San Jose State at 2:30pm on Thursday, March 9th in the Mountain West Conference Tournament. Nevada will need a victory to have any chance of an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament, and may need to beat San Diego State, Colorado State, or Fresno State in a semi-final matchup as well.

Notes

  • UNLV won the rebound battle 45-42 and led offensive rebounds 14-8.
  • The Rebels made nine three-point baskets on 34 attempts. Nevada made 2-of-12.
  • UNLV attempted 72 shots from the field vs Nevada’s 54 attempts.
  • UNLV’s bench outscored Nevada’s 29-8, including 9-0 in OT.
  • UNLV’s Keshon Gilbert was ejected 3:34 into the first half.
  • Nevada finished the season with a 14-1 home record.
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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