Editor’s note: Top-seeded Nevada will face Boise State at noon Thursday in the Mountain West Conference Tournament at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. The game will air on CBS Sports Network. Eighth-seeded Boise State beat Colorado State 66-57 in the first round of the tourney on Wednesday.
The 17th-ranked Nevada men’s basketball team saved its best performance for last in a 81-53 senior night victory over San Diego State, marking the final home game at Lawlor Events Center.
For the third-straight season, Nevada cut down the nets. The Pack finished the regular season with a 28-3 record and 15-3 in conference, sharing a co-conference title with the Utah State Aggies heading into the Mountain West Tournament as the No. 1 seed.
It is the Wolf Pack’s third-straight conference title.
“It just feels good each time you win it,” said Jordan Caroline, who scored 16 points and hauled down 12 rebounds. “First time or the last time, it’s as good a feeling as any.”
“When you get into conference play, your No. 1 goal is to play through and get a No. 1 seed,” Nevada coach Eric Musselman said. “And I’m so proud of how we played through some adversity.”
In the Mountain West Tournament at Las Vegas at noon on Thursday, Nevada will play the winner of Wednesday’s Boise State-Colorado State game.
Emotions were running high as the home crowd gave their farewells to seven seniors, but its execution on the floor took down a dynamic Aztecs squad. Nevada shot 53 percent from the field and 39 percent from behind the arc.
A ceremony was held before the game for seven seniors in their final game at Lawlor Events Center. Corey Henson, David Cunningham, Tre’Shawn Thurman, Trey Porter, Jordan Caroline and the Martin twins all were honored with a standing ovation from the coaching staff and a sold-out crowd of 11,243.
Four players scored in double-figures. Caleb Martin poured in a game-high 25 points on 3 of 6 shooting from 3-point range. Cody Martin followed behind with 14 points and two made 3-pointers. Jordan Caroline capped-off his final game at Lawlor with a signature double-double.
“We just kind of played free out there,” Caroline said. “It was pretty easy for us to play loose and get into the groove.”
The Wolf Pack held San Diego State to 34 percent shooting on the night, but its 10 3-pointers kept the Aztecs in the contest for much of the first half. Jeremy Hemsley scored a team-high 16 points. Jalen McDaniels, the Aztecs’ leading scoreer, was held to just five points and recorded four personal fouls.
“I thought defensively, second-half wise, was as good as we played all year, holding them 5 of 25 from the field and we were extremely physical on the glass,” Musselman said.
The senior-led group of Thurman, Porter, Caroline and the Martin twins made up the regular starting five for Nevada.
A fired-up Wolf Pack squad took it to the Aztecs early. Nevada scored eight-straight points en route to a 14-3 run capped-off by a by a drive-and-dish from Caleb Martin to Porter for a thunderous slam.
Caleb Martin and Aztecs forward Hemsley exchanged a few words after a timeout. After the altercation, Hemsley was showered by boos each time he touched the ball. Nevada led 32-17 midway through the first half with four 3-pointers.
Sloppy turnovers and poor execution helped The Aztecs go on 10-0 run during the final two minutes. Caleb Martin’s layup off the glass put the Pack up 42-37 to conclude the first half.
Nevada’s stingy perimeter defense helped expand its lead back to double-digits. The Pack took away San Diego State’s potent 3-point shot in the first half and capitalized with an 8-0 run to push the lead to the twenties. Cunningham checked in with 2:15 left and received a warm welcome by the Lawlor crowd.
San Diego State scored just 16 points in the second half.
“I just think because of the national pressure, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced,” Musselman said. “But these guys did a great job all year long.”
For his final home game, Caroline had his hair done in cornrows, which is the style the Martin twins wear.
“I’m a triplet with the twins now,” he said.
— Isaiah Burrows
Notes: Nevada has won its last 18 home games including all 15 his season. It is tied with Purdue for the fifth-longest active streak in Division I and tied for the second longest in school history. … The Wolf Pack has not trailed in seven of the last 12 games. … Nevada has been ranked in the AP Top 25 in the last 23 weeks dating back to last season. … Caleb Martin and Jordan Caroline have led the team in scoring in 27 of 31 games this season. “I just told them I loved them and thanked them for taking me and my family on this ride,” Musselman said. “Jordan for three years, Cody Caleb the last two years. It’s a lot different coaching guys like this.” … Caroline is sixth all-time at Nevada with 1,728 career points. Caleb Martin ranks 17th with 1,285. Caroline’s 937 rebounds ranks is fifth in school history.