Nevada’s Jalen Harris continued his scorching offensive tear in a 88-54 victory over Air Force on Wednesday at Lawlor Events Center.
Harris poured in a career-high 38 points on 12-of-21 shooting to help snap the Wolf Pack’s two-game losing skid. Nevada improved to 14-10 overall and 7-5 in the Mountain West Conference.
“I’ve just been confident,” Harris said. “My teammates have done a good job of finding me and coaches have been putting me in opportunities to make plays. That’s what it’s been the past few games, just trying to do whatever I need to do for us to win.”
It has been a season to remember for the 6-foot-5 junior guard. Harris’ 20.7 points per game ranks first in the conference. He’s recorded a Mountain West-best five 30-point games.
He has scored three-straight 30-point games for the first time in Nevada history. Harris is the fourth player in Nevada Divison-1 history to have five or more 30-point games in a season.
“He’s in a special groove right now,” head coach Steve Alford said. “He’s very talented and works very hard at his game. It’s good seeing somebody who works that hard to produce like this on the floor.”
Harris’ quick crossover to speed past defenders complements his smooth finger rolls off the glass. He gets to his destined spot on the floor without any hesitation and pulls up from 3-point range with ease.
“He has a good frame to him and he’s really athletic,” Alford said. “He’s really grown with how he drives the basketball and how finishing at the rim. … I think he’s done a great job of that because early in the season, he wasn’t a great finisher.”
Along with his scoring prowess, Harris’ selfless attitude was on full display during the waning moments of the second half. He sacrificed a shot attempt for 40 points and dished it to freshman K.J. Hymes for a dunk.
“Instead of him forcing up shots to try and get 40 points, he makes a great pass to one of our guys down low,” Alford said. “That just speaks to who he is and how he’s grown as a player. That’s what has been a lot of fun is watching him grow.”
Senior guard Jazz Johnson missed his second-straight game with right shoulder soreness. Harris has made an emphasis to become a vocal leader and set an example for younger players to follow.
“We’ve been talking to him about stepping into that leadership role,” Alford said. “Jazz and him were kind of taking that load. When Jazz went out, that puts even more onus on him to lead and he’s doing a terrific job of that.”
Harris was forced to sit out last season after transferring from Louisiana Tech. But he’s made the most of his time on the floor with Nevada.
“I’m just enjoying it all,” Harris said earlier this season. “It’s been a great experience and I want to keep growing, for myself and the team.”
Born and raised in Texas, Harris showcased his offensive dating back to his high school days at Duncanville High School.
He was twice named District 8-6A Offensive Player of the Year and was named to the Metroplex High School All-Star Game. Harris averaged 23 points per game on 55 percent shooting his senior season and scored a career-high 44 points in an overtime loss to Cedar High School.
Harris’ potent scoring numbers followed Harris during his two seasons at Louisiana Tech. He was named to the Conference USA all-freshman team in 2017-18 after averaging 10.9 points per game.
More of the same continued for Harris heading into his sophomore campaign. He upped his scoring average to a team-high 15.3 points the first 11 games of the 2017-18 season. But he put the rest of his year on hold to transfer from the university.
Nevada has offered more than just a change of scenery for Harris during his highs and lows. He makes sure to savor every moment before taking the court.
“Sitting out that year was a lot for me,” he said. “It kind of gave me a different mentality to appreciate it more and play every game. I just try to appreciate it all.”
Harris was reunited with his Lone Star State roots this season. He scored 24 points in a 80-73 victory over Texas-Arlington on Nov. 12, a campus located just a few miles away from Duncanville High School.
“UTA is a good team, that’s where I’m from just a couple minutes down the road,” he said earlier this season. “I know the players and the coaching staff well. This team comes out and plays hard, so for us to come out with that win at home is a good feeling.”
Scoring 24 points has become a usual routine of his over the homestretch of the season. But Harris has his eyes set on finishing the remainder of the year on a high note.
“We have what it takes to play with the best in the conference,” he said. “We just have to keep playing with consistency and poise.”
Nevada bounces back with big win against Air Force
Coming off back-to-back road losses to Colorado State and Boise state, Nevada rediscovered its identity on both ends of the floor.
The Wolf Pack shot 51 percent from the field and 40 percent from 3-point range. Nisré Zouzoua started in place for Johnson. Zouzoua scored 15 points on 3-of-8 shooting from 3-point range.
Alford gave an update on Johnson’s status for Saturday’s game against San Jose State.
“We’re almost at a week out [until his return],” Alford said. “Hopefully the shoulder will respond well and we’ll continue to talk to doctors as they look at him. I know he felt better today than the other two days … he’s questionable for Saturday.”
Lindsey Drew — who had eight points and six rebounds — totaled 900 career points and 600 rebounds with Nevada.
“It definitely feels good,” Drew said. “In the summer, I wasn’t planning on going anywhere. I put my blood, sweat and tears out there on the court for Nevada.”
Robby Robinson hauled in a team-high nine rebounds. Johncarlos Reyes had seven points and six rebounds. Hymes added 10 points and five rebounds off the bench.
Air Force shot 33 percent from the floor and 25 percent from 3-point range. Lavelle Scottie scored a team-high 19 points with five rebounds.
Harris, Lindsey Drew, Zouzoua, Reyes and Robby Robinson made up the starting five for the Wolf Pack.
Nevada jumped out to an early 7-4 lead off a Harris corner 3-pointer. Zouzoua’s 3-pointer at the top of the key pushed the Pack’s lead to 29-11 with under nine minutes remaining.
The Wolf Pack held a double-digit advantage for the remainder of the first half. Hymes’ thunderous slam put Nevada up 38-20 during the final minutes.
Air Force trailed Nevada 44-22 at the half.
More of the same continued in the second half. Nevada dominated on both ends of the court and cruised to an easy victory.
Up Next: Nevada faces San Jose State on Saturday, Feb. 8 at Lawlor Events Center.
— Isaiah Burrows