Nevada Wolf Pack holds of New Mexico Lobos
RENO — Protect the ball.
Those are words that Nevada basketball coach Eric Musselman had drilled into his basketball team all week, and his players did just that.
The Pack turned the ball over just five times against the ball-hawking New Mexico Lobos, and got two key baskets from Caleb Martin in the final two minutes in a 77-74 win before a season-best 9,530 fans at Lawlor Events Center on Saturday.
Nevada improved to 13-3 overall and is 2-0 in Mountain West play for the first time under Musselman.
Even better was the fact that New Mexico managed just four points off the Nevada mistakes. The Pack turned the ball over just once in the final 20 minutes.
Nevada had just 12 turnovers for the week against the teams (Fresno and New Mexico) that led the conference in steals.
“Lindsey (Drew) has done a remarkable job, and his assist-turnover ratio is one of the best in the country,” Musselman said. “Caleb and Cody (Martin) are great ball handlers as well. Jordan (Caroline) in the position he’s playing is a good ball handler. Not a lot of guys that are going to turn it over.”
And, the defense stepped up and forced the Lobos into a couple of miscues down the stretch.
New Mexico, which trailed the bulk of the game, went on a 7-0 run to tie the game at 70 with 4:55 remaining on two straight treys by Anthony Mathis (17 points off the bench).
Nevada took the lead 72-70 on a jump shot by Martin (24 points) with 3:34 left. After several empty possessions, the Pack came up with the first of two huge plays.
Caleb Martin missed two straight free throws, and Caroline saved the ball. Martin buried a jump shot to make it 74-70 with 1:59 left. Sam Logwood (12 points) made two baskets in less than a minute, cutting the lead to 76-74 with 55 seconds left.
Martin misfired on the ensuing possession, but Caroline came up with the rebound and was fouled. He made one of two making it 77-74 with 17 seconds left.
“I had to get it,” Caroline said.
“Jordan provides that for us,” Musselman said. “Obviously that is a big key for us.”
The Pack got into the bonus with more than 13 minutes left, but didn’t take advantage of it. Nevada finished the game 19 of 29 from the floor, including 2-for-8 in the final 13 minutes.
Musselman blamed it on fatigue, pointing out that New Mexico played 10 players, and his team essentially played six.
Mathis misfired with 7 seconds left, and a Nevada player knocked the ball out of play. The Lobos got the ensuing inbounds pass to Chris McNeal, but Drew blocked the shot out of bounds.
“We were switching everything at the time,” Drew said. “I really figured he was just going to shoot it (not ball or pump fake).”
“Lindsey is one of best shot-blocking guards in the conference; in the country,” Musselman said. “He has great length. I think he gets tired of me telling him to get his arms out. I don’t think he realizes how long he is.”
After a timeout by the Lobos, they had trouble inbounding the ball short and threw it down the sideline where it was stolen by Caleb Martin to end the game.
“We were all on same page,” Martin said. “We were switching (on everything). It was too clogged up in the corner, so we were looking for them to throw it long.”
Nevada could have fouled New Mexico in that situation, but opted not to. Musselman said he’s been with programs that have done that.
“I thought (our) defense was phenomenal on out of bounds plays,” Musselman said. “I felt with our length we’d be able to deflect passes. Not often do I think deflections on shots. We had six blocks today and it happened with our perimeter players.”
Martin scored six of Nevada’s final seven points, but Musselman pointed out that wasn’t necessarily by design.
“We went to Jordan in the final four minutes three straight times,” Musselman said. “It is based on matchups, who might have foul trouble or who has poor lateral movement we might want to attack.”
“Depends who is on who,” Caleb Martin said. “If I have a mismatch I’ll take it. If Cody (Martin) has mismatch he’ll take it.”
Nevada used a 14-7 run in the latter stages of the first half to open a 38-26 lead. Kendall Stephens had five, Drew four and Caroline three to lead the way. Nevada walked off the floor at the half leading 42-34.
“I thought we did a phenomenal job defending the 3-ball in the first half (26.3 percent),” Musselman said. “We didn’t defend it as well in the second half.”
Indeed. The Lobos shot 46 percent from 3 and 55.6 overall from the field in the second half. That enabled the Lobos to wipe out Nevada’s double-digit (54-43) lead.
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