Nevada pushed its win streak up to a season-high five games with a 78-76 thriller over a feisty Fresno State squad on Saturday at Lawlor Events Center in Reno.
The two teams traded baskets until the final buzzer in a back-and-forth offensive showcase. With Nevada up by two with 27 seconds left, Fresno State guard New Williams’ 3-point attempt for the win ticked off the rim.
The Wolf Pack improved to 18-10 overall and 11-5 in the Mountain West Conference. But head coach Steve Alford sees plenty of room for improvement after a close win to a struggling 10-18 Fresno State team.
“We were lucky,” Alford said post-game. “I didn’t like our demeanor. I didn’t like our energy. … We really looked like a team that came back from the road after two big road wins and said ‘Hey, we’re at home, so we’re gonna win.’ and we played that way until the last 10 possessions.”
Nevada needed a combined effort to counter Fresno State’s barrage from beyond the arc. The Wolf Pack shot 47 percent from the field and 42 percent from 3-point range on 26 attempts. Jalen Harris scored a game-high 20 points with five rebounds. Nisré Zouzoua added 19 points off the bench on 5-of-7 shooting from 3-point range. Jazz Johnson and Lindsey Drew each had 15 points.
Alford was impressed by Zouzoua’s presence on both ends of the floor.
“I thought Nisré was terrific,” he said. “Without his presence tonight, not only his point production … he was easily our best defender at the guard spot.”
Trailing 71-62, the Wolf Pack offense coasted to a 16-5 run over the final six minutes. The Bulldogs were held scoreless on eight of the final 10 possessions.
Fresno State shot 44 percent from the field and 40 percent from 3-point range on 35 attempts. Niven Hart had a team-high 18 points. Jarred Hyder had 15 points and four assists. Nate Grimes hauled in a team-high 10 rebounds.
The Bulldogs’ prominence from the perimeter posed problems for Nevada defensively.
“There aren’t a lot of teams that have defended the 3-point line like we have this year,” Alford said. “Tonight, we give up 14 makes on 35 attempts. I don’t know if any team has made that many against us.”
Harris, Johnson, Drew, Robby Robinson and Johncarlos Reyes made up the starting lineup for the Pack.
Fresno State jumped out to an early 16-4 lead. Nevada opened the first five minutes shooting 2-of-6 from the field with four turnovers. The Wolf Pack trimmed into their deficit with an 8-2 run capped-off by Zouzoua’s 3-pointer.
Nevada kept its foot on the gas pedal. Drew’s and-1 layup put the Pack ahead 28-26 with six minutes left in the first half. The two teams traded baskets for the remainder of the half, and Fresno State led 43-42 at the buzzer.
Grimes’ putback layup put Fresno State ahead 54-51. Zouzoua’s baseline 3-pointer tied the game 57-57 with 12 minutes remaining. The Bulldogs held a 71-62 lead, but Nevada responded to take a one point advantage with 3:37 left.
Fresno State kept it close, but Nevada pulled away late with efficient shooting and tight perimeter defense.
“For the last four minutes we really played well,” Alford said. “There were a lot of periods in this game that I didn’t care for, but we tightened up in that spot.”
Up Next: Nevada hits the road to face Wyoming on Tuesday, Feb. 25. San Diego State comes to Lawlor Events Center on Saturday, Feb. 29 to close out the regular season.
— Isaiah Burrows