With a big lead, a group of Jackrabbits is extremely difficult to catch, even when pursued by a speedy, savvy Wolf Pack.
The Nevada men’s basketball team (10-0) is ranked seventh in the nation despite a tendency to fall behind early in games. After winning six road contests, the Wolf Pack has reassembled in Reno for a 6 p.m. Saturday contest against South Dakota State. The visiting Jackrabbits scored 139 points Tuesday night and are led Mike Daum, a potential high NBA draft pick.
During its stretch of road games, Nevada trailed at halftime to USC and was down by 12 at intermission against Arizona State. On Sunday, the Wolf Pack fell behind 11-0 to Grand Canyon. Last year, Nevada came back from double-digit deficits to Texas and Cincinnati to advance to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament.
“You get off to so many slow starts, eventually one of them will come back to bite us,” said Caleb Martin, a preseason AP All-American guard.
Cody Martin, the Wolf Pack’s point guard, mirrored his twin brother’s sentiment.
“We have to have a better start, especially against a real good team like South Dakota State,” he said. “Sometimes (trailing by) 10 points can feel like 20 points against a team like that. We need to make sure we start off on the right foot and stick to our game plan.”
An NCAA Tournament participant the last three seasons, the Jackrabbits (8-3) broke several school scoring records in their 139-72 win Tuesday over Savannah State (3-8). They scored 90 points in the first half.
Wolf Pack coach Eric Musselman compared 6-9 senior power forward Daum to Nick Fazekas, Nevada’s all-time leading scorer who now plays professionally in Japan. Daum scored 37 points on Tuesday and averages 26.2 points and 10.8 rebounds a game.
“He has a soft touch and there are ton of similarities with how they score,” Musselman said. “Daum is as good as anyone I’ve seen at setting the screen and slipping and opening to the ball. For a big guy, he’s obviously a great three-point shooter. His flip shots around the rim are very similar to Nick Fazekas.”
Caleb Martin expects 6-8 power forward Tre’Shawn Thurman to guard Daum at the start of the game.
“(Daum) is not the quickest guy, he’s not the fastest guy, but he finds a way to get his shot off,” Martin said. “He’s really crafty around the rim. He’s got pretty good touch. He can shoot from NBA range. He’s one of those guys who’s going to be a tough cover.”
Part of Nevada’s second-half success can be attributed to Musselman’s penchant to switch matchups.
“Whoever is assigned to (Daum) doesn’t necessarily mean he will be guarding him the entire game,” he said. “We feel you can’t give a great player the same look an entire game.”
Those who consider Daum a one-man team don’t know Jackrabbits basketball.
South Dakota’s David Jenkins has made 38 of 71 three-point shots for a .535 shooting percentage. He averages 22.5 points. After missing seasons due to injury and redshirt, Skyler Flatten (14.9 points) is a sixth-year player.
“You’re talking about a South Dakota State team that obviously is phenomenal at scoring the basketball,” Musselman said. “As far as a primary scorer, a secondary scorer and a third scorer, this is the best team that we’ve played so far.
“Daum is an All American candidate and a potential next-level player for the NBA. Jenkins is perfectly capable of making seven or eight threes in one game. Flatten can score the ball as well. Point guard (Tevin) King distributes the ball well and is good at setting the pace they want to play at, and they are really well coached.”
One of nine unbeaten teams in the country, Nevada is pretty good, too.
If defenses try to stop its outside shooting, the Wolf Pack will drive inside, something Jordan Caroline relishes. A physical competitor, Caroline averages 18.6 points and 10.2 rebounds and was named Mountain West Conference Player of the Week for the third time.
Cody Martin leads the league in assists and he rarely turns the ball over. Junior transfer Jazz Johnson has established himself as the sixth man who brings instant offense off the bench. He is third in the NCAA with a 55.6 shooting percentage from three-point range. Centers Trey Porter, a phenomenal leaper, and fast-improving freshman Jordan Brown are both 6-11 and pose matchup problems for opponents.
Caleb Martin is averaging 18.7 points a game but made just two of his 18 three-point attempts in the Arizona State and Grand Canyon games.
“I’ve been garbage,” Martin said. I can’t hit the broad side of a barn.”
However, Martin’s teammates and coaches have encouraged him to keep shooting.
“Those shots that he’s missing right now are the same shots that when he makes them, we are unbeatable,” Musselman said. “There is no secret that Caleb Martin takes high-degree-of-difficulty shots,” Musselman said. “People on Twitter and coaching friends ask how can you allow that … (But) that’s how we came back from 22 against New Mexico, that’s how we beat Texas, that’s how we beat Cincinnati. That’s who we are. Our players play with freedom offensively.
“If your shot’s not going in, you’ve got to defend and rebound. So, although Caleb said his shot was garbage, which it was against Grand Canyon, to have your off-guard get 12 rebounds is really special. From defensive and rebounding standpoints, Caleb Martin was a superstar. His shot was garbage and you might need a throw-up bag sometimes when it’s not going in, but having said that, he did a lot of things that helped us win. He’s gonna have the ultimate green light.”
Lindsey Drew out for the season
Lindsey Drew will not play this season.
The starting point guard, who went down with an Achilles injury in a game at Boise State in February 2018 had right hip surgery on Wednesday. He will have surgery on his left hip in the next four to six weeks. Recovery time is projected to by three to six months.
“It’s sad to see Lindsey had to undergo another operation,” Musselman said in a press statement. “He was working hard to return to the team from the Achilles injury and this setback will force him to redshirt this season. We wish him the best and look forward to him playing for the Pack next season.”
The Wolf Pack has eight players in their final year of eligibility. But the cupboard will hardly be bare in 2019-2020. The squad is expected to include sophomore center Jordan Brown, seniors Drew, Jazz Johnson, Nisre Zouzoua, junior transfers JoJo Anderson, Jalen Harris and Eric Parrish and redshirt freshmen K.J. Hymes, Jalen Townsell and Vincent Lee.
Parrish played his freshman season at Akron. This year he is averaging 27.7 points, 9.7 rebounds and 10 assists at Bossier Parish Community College.
Notes: Saturday’s game is Ugly Sweater Night at Lawlor Events Center. … Musselman said South Dakota State has only played zone defense on about four possessions this year, however, he is preparing his team for both zone and man-to-man defense. Dan Majerle’s Grand Canyon normally plays man defense but went with a zone against Nevada and it worked well much of the time. … Caleb Martin explained why Nevada is so good at making comebacks: “It comes from pride. When you are down 10, you look at the guys across from us and go, ‘Man, they’re not 10 points better than us. They’re not one point better than us.’ At some point you get tired of letting people score and your pride kicks in. You will get the rebound and go after a loose ball and your competitiveness kicks in.” … Cody Martin has another take: “We don’t get uncomfortable in those situations. We have an older team and know it’s not the end of the world if you are down 10 at the beginning of the game.” … Freshman Jordan Brown has a quick release with a jump hook and his last two games have been his best, Musselman said. He was especially effective in finding gaps in the zone offense against Grand Canyon. … Brown is a phenom, but the starting center job belongs to graduate transfer Trey Porter, who is 6-11 and has a 45-inch vertical leap. “I can throw it anywhere and he’s going to get it. It could be above the backboard, he’ll probably still go get it,” Cody Martin said. … . Coach Muss: “We still hope to get Corey (Henson) and Nisre (Zouzoua) kickstarted. We know they can really shoot the ball.” Henson, who sank a three-pointer, played six minutes in both the Arizona State and Grand Canyon games. Zouzoua played three minutes vs. Grand Canyon. … Six consecutive road games might be unprecedented for Nevada basketball. “The intent to play road games sets us up to get an at-large bid (in the NCAA Tourney),” Musselman said. “We’ve challenged ourselves with the schedule and we’ve done an incredible job so far.”
— Tim Parsons