Nevada’s second-half surge paved the road to a 72-67 victory over Loyola Marymount on Saturday at Lawlor Events Center in Reno.
It was the first Wolf Pack win under head coach Steve Alford. Nevada improved to 1-1 on the season.
Alford kept a futuristic approach regarding his first career win in the Biggest Little City.
“I guess we will wait and see what happens on Tuesday and on from there,” he said. “If we don’t get any more, then it will be a memorable one. But we’re going take this win, break the tape down and see where the messes were.”
Both teams kept it close, but Nevada pulled away with gritty defense and timely baskets, outscoring the Lions 40-31 in the final 20 minutes.
Alford made a few second-half adjustments, and his players responded.
“Some of the places we had an emphasis on in the second half I thought our guys responded to,” he said. “We did a good job of hustling and crashing the boards and not giving them any second chances.”
Nevada shot 43 percent from the field and 23 percent from 3-point territory. Jazz Johnson scored a season-high 20 points on 6-of-13 shooting. Lindsey Drew stuffed the stat sheet with a game-high 24 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. Johncarlos Reyes chipped in with 10 points.
Senior guard Nisré Zouzoua had nine points and four assists in the first start of the season. He replaced Jalen Harris, who suffered a foot injury against Utah on Tuesday.
Drew and Johnson have carried the scoring load with Harris out of the lineup.
“It felt good for us to play our game,” Drew said. “We are short-handed a bit with Jalen out so I think we do take consideration in scoring more, playing defense and other things.”
Nevada’s tight man-to-man defense posed problems for Loyola Marymount. The Wolf Pack came away with five blocks — four from redshirt freshman K.J. Hymes — and seven steals.
The Lions shot 41 percent from the floor and 30 percent from 3-point range. Junior forward Eli Scott scored a team-high 18 points and hauled in five rebounds. Ivan Alipiev added 10 points on 4-of-10 shooting.
One of Alford’s second-half adjustments was putting sophomore forward Robby Robinson on Scott to slow him down. Robinson’s 6-foot-8 frame matched Scott’s physical play down low, which helped spur Nevada’s second half rejuvenation.
“Putting a bigger body on him like Robby helped,” Alford said. “It got him in some foul trouble, which was huge in the second half. So, I thought Robby made some tough plays and did a really nice job.”
Robinson, Zouzoua, Reyes, Drew and Johnson made up the starting five for Nevada.
Loyola Marymount jumped out to a quick 8-0 lead, prompting a timeout from Alford. Nevada trimmed its deficit to 19-16 with a Drew 3-pointer as the shot clock expired. The Lions kept the contest in their favor with a physical inside game. Nevada closed the first 20 minutes on a high note with a pair of Zouzoua free throws.
Nevada trailed 36-32 at the half.
Jazz Johnson’s back-to-back 3-pointers gave Nevada a 50-47 lead midway through the second half. Drew’s coast-to-coast layup put the Pack up 56-49 for its largest lead of the game and sending a huge roar from the Lawlor crowd.
Reyes’ put-back layup extended Nevada’s lead to 63-53. Loyola Marymount tried to mount a comeback with three-straight made baskets, but the Pack’s offense down the stretch closed the book on a high-intensity game.
Nevada faces Texas Arlington on Tuesday at Lawlor Events Center.
— Isaiah Burrows