The sixth-ranked Nevada men’s basketball team returned to its winning ways in physical fashion, topping the Fresno State Bulldogs 74-68 Saturday night at Lawlor Events Center. The Wolf Pack improved to 25-2 overall and 12-2 in conference play this season.
“Fresno played so hard, they did a great job and it was an incredible game,” Musselman said. “I thought we played with a lot of heart and it helped us close it out.”
Coming off the bench after a scoreless game in the loss Wednesday at San Diego State, Nevada’s senior forward Tre-Shawn Thurman stuffed the stat sheet with 14 points, a team-high 10 rebounds and four assists in 34 minutes. The fifth-year senior’s all-around performance was the real difference maker and put a stamp on the game with a thunderous slam.
“I did not walk into the building thinking I’d play Tre 34 minutes tonight,” Musselman said. “I had no clue he was gonna get a double-double and lead us in assists so I thought he was phenomenal.”
On the back of guard Deshon Taylor, Fresno State gave Nevada every ounce of effort it had and made the contest close through the final buzzer, but the Pack’s grit and extra effort during the final three minutes helped seal the win. Thurman’s basket and plus-1 capped an 8-0 run.
Early on, Nevada and Fresno State traded 3-pointers in back-and-forth fashion. The Pack adjusted its game plan, seeking contact by attacking the smaller-sized Bulldogs off the dribble and battling for second-chance opportunities.
“We just had to withstand their barrage of threes,” Musselman said. “We started driving to the basketball more and it helped with the ebb and flow of the game. We got physical and they did a great job responding.”
Taylor tallied a career-high 32 points against Nevada in Lawlor last season on Jan. 31, 2018. He scored a hard-fought, game-high 30 points on Saturday night. Thurman and Caleb Martin played him tight on the perimeter. Musselman improvised a full-court pressure on Taylor as well, forcing the ball out of his hands and putting him in foul trouble.
“He’s a really quick guard, but we have two taller guys to put on him,” Musselman said. “He was a problem but I think we did a good job of forcing him into turnovers.”
White Out night brought 11,097 fans to downtown Reno. Nevada has seven games with a paid attendance of 11,000 or more this season. The atmosphere was electric and the crowd joined Musselman in disputing several calls by the referees. The two teams combined for 42 personal fouls.
“We don’t want to get them the easy call every time,” Caleb Martin said. “We tried to switch, but that didn’t really work. But hey, I’m just happy we came out of it with the win.”
Fresno State leads the Mountain West with 265 3-pointers made at a 38 percent clip. Nevada clamped down on the perimeter, limiting the Bulldogs to 42 percent from 3-point range on 26 attempts. Braxton Huggins, their leading point scorer, was limited to eight points and fouled out in the second half.
Nevada shot 44 percent from the field and 42 percent from 3-point range on 24 attempts. Caleb Martin recorded a game-high 24 points and got banged up with multiple hard falls on the floor. He was seen hobbling and favoring an ankle.
“I feel old right now,” Martin said, 23. “Just a little banged up, a cold tub and I’ll be just fine. You can tell everybody wanted it … It got real physical out there.”
Fresno State’s guard-oriented lineup brought junior guard Jazz Johnson into the starting lineup for the first time this season. Johnson’s smooth stroke from the perimeter helped space the floor. Johnson hit his first three-point shots. Johnson played the entire game and finished with 10 points.
“I thought Jazz has done a great job for us all season,” Musselman said. “I wanted to reward him since that was his first start. We did feel Fresno plays a lot on the perimeter with a lot of guards and Jazz seemed like a nice fit.”
Johnson joined Trey Porter, Caroline and the Martin twins to make up the starting five, it also marks the third lineup Nevada has featured this season.
Nevada pulled ahead to a slim four-point lead with baskets inside from Caroline and Thurman. Back-to-back shooting fouls on Nevada put the Bulldogs in the bonus, adding four points from the stripe to close out the first half. The Wolf Pack led 42-39.
In the second half, Nevada led 52-47 when Caleb Martin hit a 3-pointer. Fresno State regained the lead with under 10 minutes remaining on the back of Taylor, who found his rhythm with a step-back 3-pointer and finger roll on the ensuing possession.
The Pack had a 6-0 run with just over two minutes remaining. Taylor’s fifth made three of the game trimmed the Bulldogs’ deficit to three, but Nevada closed it out with Caleb Martin’s free throws.
Nevada faces UNLV on Wednesday at Lawlor Events Center. The Rebels are 15-11 overall and 9-5 in conference play.
Notes: Jordan Caroline and Caleb Martin have led the Wolf Pack in scoring in 24 of 27 games this season. … Nevada has made 52 more free throws (473) than its opponents have attempted (421) this year. … Trey Porter has won the opening tip-off 21 times in 26 opportunities. … The Wolf Pack is 56-5 at Lawlor Events Center under Eric Musselman. … Nevada is 82-18 when ranked in the AP Top 25.