The 10th-ranked Nevada men’s basketball team has been a second-half team all season, and the Wolf Pack proved it once again Saturday in a 67-52 victory over Air Force at Lawlor Events Center in Reno. (On Monday, Nevada jumped to No. 7 in The AP poll.)
After a historically poor first-half performance, Nevada cleaned up with another signature second-half comeback, improving to 18-1 overall and 5-1 in the Mountain West Conference.
Nevada trailed 24-20 at halftime with its lowest scoring first-half in coach Eric Musselman’s four seasons. His team’s next lowest scoring output was 21 points against Coastal Carolina in his coaching debut with Nevada. The Wolf Pack shot 1 of 13 from 3-point range and totaled eight turnovers, but outscored Air Force 43-22 in the second half thanks suffocating defense and timely baskets.
“We don’t want to make a habit of scoring 20 points in a half,” Musselman said. “It was a tale of two halves performance and credit Air Force for sticking it out but we really stuck it out and got the job done.”
Center Trey Porter scored 11 points and added six rebounds. He was a catalyst offensively and his energy was felt all game, including an altercation with Falcons guard Sid Tomes in the second half. Both players received technical fouls.
“Trey had a huge height advantage tonight,” Musselman said. “We fed him the ball down low more in the second half and it really turned the game in our favor.”
Another dominant defensive performance led the the Pack to victory. Air Force was held to 35 percent shooting from the field and 28 percent from behind the 3-point arc. Lavelle Scottie (15 points) was the only player to score in double-figures and Nevada forced 21 turnovers, which translated to 14 points in transition.
“I thought we did a good job of holding them defensively,” Musselman said. “We really kept them out of their rhythm and bothered them all night. That’s the one thing we’ve done a good job of consistently this year.”
Nevada shot 42 percent from the field and 19 percent from 3-point distance, going 5 of 27. Its reliance on the 3-ball against zone defenses has kept opponents in the game for a majority of the season.
“The offense wasn’t where it needed to be and the ball wasn’t popping,” Musselman said. “We settled for too many threes and it’s gonna cost us if we keep shooting as poorly as we did tonight.”
Jordan Caroline scored a game-high 19 points and eight rebounds. He has scored in double-figures in every game this season and Saturday he moved to eighth place on Nevada’s all-time scoring list.
Senior guard Caleb Martin, who finished with 10 points on 4-15 shooting, has been battling flu-like symptoms for the last couple of days and his status for the game was up in the air, according to Musselman.
“I can tell he wasn’t feeling well,” he said. “I went into the restroom and he was on all fours throwing up so he didn’t practice. I didn’t know if he was gonna play or not.”
Porter’s play down the stretch kept freshman center Jordan Brown on the bench for much of the game. Brown totaled a season-low seven minutes, all of which came in the first half.
“Jordan’s done a great job in practice,” Musselman said. “We’re 18-1 and we have a lot of fifth-year seniors, but Jordan has a lot of talent and has kept a great attitude.”
An experienced squad, the Wolf Pack has started all seniors in every game this season. The Pack featured the starting five of Caroline, Porter, Corey Henson and the Martin twins for the fourth-straight game. The unit was crucial to retake the lead in the second half, closing out on shooters and pounding the ball inside on the other end.
Another slow start offensively had the Pack down 15-10 in the early going. Air Force nailed three 3-pointers in the first seven minutes while the Pack started one of nine from deep. Nevada responded with a quick 3-0 run fueled by easy layups in transition. Caroline’s and-1 layup brought the deficit to three points, but Air Force closed the half out on a strong note to keep its halftime lead.
Nevada’s lead hit double-digits with under eight minutes remaining. Henson sank his first 3-point of the contest and the Pack closed the game out on a 11-6 run over the final three minutes.
The Wolf Pack faces the Colorado State Rams on Wednesday at Lawlor Events Center. Led by junior forward Nico Carvacho, Colorado State is 7-11 overall and 2-3 in conference play.
Notes: Caleb Martin has scored 65 percent of his points in the second half (222-344). … Jordan Caroline is averaging 18.3 points and 9.7 rebounds per game. He has 11 double-doubles this season. … Cody Martin leads the Mountain West in assists per game (5.1) and assist to turnover ratio (3.2). … Nevada is 42-2 in its last 44 home games… The paid attendance of 11,222 was 11th-highest in school history.
— Isaiah Burrows