Several new faces led Nevada basketball to a 81-52 exhibition victory over Cal State East Bay on Saturday at Lawlor Events Center.
From the bench with head coach Steve Alford’s debut to four new players on the floor, Nevada battled to the final buzzer and suffocated the Pioneers defensively.
Nevada’s starting five featured a three-guard lineup of Lindsey Drew, Jalen Harris and Jazz Johnson with 6-foot-10 forwards K.J. Hymes and Johncarlos Reyes in the front court.
Drew scored five points and dished out five assists in his first appearance with the Pack after missing all of last season recovering from an Achilles injury. He received a standing ovation from thousands of fans in attendance.
The new-look Wolf Pack shot 43 percent from the floor and 42 percent from 3-point territory. Junior guard Jalen Harris was the primary scoring option, pouring in a team-high 21 points on 6-of-13 shooting. Harris put the ball on the floor and picked up easy points from the free-throw line.
Harris bounced-back from a slow first half and caught fire with 16 points in the final 20 minutes.
“My teammates saw me struggling and did a good job of finding me and helping me get in a rhythm,” he said. “To see some shots go in, it felt good. I hope to keep it going.”
Freshman forward Zane Meeks recorded his first double-double with 10 points and 14 rebounds off the bench. Meeks, who attended Brewster Academy in Prairie Village, Kansas, went 3-for-7 from behind the arc and stretched the floor for the Pack.
“Zane, for a freshman pulling in 14 rebounds and the job he did was tremendous,” Alford said. “He gave us that energy we needed.”
Junior guard Nisré Zouzoua scored 16 points and added five rebounds off the bench. His hustle and relentless finishing ability in the paint helped Nevada build an early lead. He showcased his range with a pair of 3-pointers in the second half.
“It feels good to go out there and finally show to people what I can really do,” he said. “I’m happy with how we played as a group.”
Reyes added nine and hauled in six rebounds. The senior forward transferred from Boston College to Nevada. His activity in the paint helped Nevada tally six second-chance points.
Hymes chipped in with three points and four rebounds. The freshman forward committed to Nevada from Hillcrest Prep High School in Phoenix. He was named Mountain West Freshman of the Year by the Mountain West preseason poll.
Off the bench, Zouzoua and Meeks provided the spark Nevada needed down the stretch. Zouzoua nailed back-to-back three pointers to put the Pack up double-digits in the second half.
Freshman guard Kane Milling had six points and was the primary facilitator with the second unit. He last played for CSP Limoges in Nantes, France.
This year’s Wolf Pack team share some similarities to last year’s squad with early offensive struggles. Nevada missed its first six shots of the contest, but quickly found some rhythm with crisp ball movement and finding easy baskets inside.
Cal State East Bay shot just 31 percent from the floor and 22 percent from 3-point range. Junior forward Zafir Williams scored 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting.
“We’ve just got to be more talkative defensively, and that showed up in the second half,” Alford said. “That’s something we can work on and talk about. But overall, I was really pleased.”
Alford made quite the first impression in his debut with Nevada.
“It’s been good. We’ve had six months here to make the transition and getting things together,” he said. “It started all the way back in June just building a roster. … But this was good and overall I was pleased with how we competed.”
Nevada rallied off a 15-2 run over six minutes to breathe life back into the Lawlor crowd. The Pack carried that same physical play in the second half to seal the win.
The Pioneers jumped out to a quick 8-0 advantage. Nevada responded with a 15-2 run to take a 15-10 lead. Meeks’ three-pointer and Zouzoa’s transition layp put the Wolf Pack up 27-15 at the half.
Cal State East Bay opened the second half with five-straight points. Nevada answered back with a 13-2 run for a double-digit lead. The Wolf Pack kept their foot on the gas pedal and closed the game with three-straight made baskets.
The Wolf Pack plays another exhibition contest against Colorado Christian on Oct. 30 at Lawlor Events Center. Nevada makes its regular season debut against Utah on Nov. 5 at home. The game will tip-off at 7:30 p.m.
Tre’Shawn Thurman, Caleb Martin sign NBA deals: Former Nevada forward Tre’Shawn Thurman signed with the Detroit Pistons on Friday. Thurman spent one season with the Wolf Pack after transferring from Omaha. He averaged 8.2 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.1 steals per game last season. Caleb Martin agreed to a partially guaranteed three-year deal with the Charlotte Hornets. Caleb —who signed as an undrafted free agent— will join his twin brother Cody Martin, who was drafted 36th overall by Charlotte in the 2019 NBA Draft.
Notes: Jazz Johnson scored eight points and dished out four assists. … Nevada had 16 turnovers.
— Isaiah Burrows