The Nevada Wolf Pack opened up their 2021-22 campaign with a 91-76 victory over the Eastern Washington Eagles Tuesday in front of 7,103 fans at Lawlor Events Center in Reno, Nev.
Tuesday marked the first time since Feb. 29, 2020 — a span of 619 days — where fans populated the crowd. Fans and students were required to be fully vaccinated upon entrance.
“It was fun,” Nevada guard Grant Sherfield said after the game about having fans in the stands. “It makes the game fun when you have fans interacting with the game and stuff. I pretty much felt the fans’ voices every play.”
“I’m a guy who plays for the fans. I feed off the energy in the crowd,” Nevada guard Desmond Cambridge said. “Even in the exhibition game, and there were a couple of fans, I wasn’t really feeling it and I didn’t show a lot of emotion. But today, I really felt it so it was a big difference.”
The Pack’s offense reflected that sentiment, too. They put together two 40-point halves, shooting 50.7 percent, 33.3 percent (7-21) from 3-point range and 66.7 percent (10-15) from the free-throw line.
Five players scored 13-plus points while four scored at least 15 in the 15-point victory.
Cambridge recorded his 26th careeer 20-point performance. He had a team-high 22 points on 8-of-14 shooting and 4-of-9 from distance, adding seven rebounds, four assists and two steals. Warren Washington tallied 15 points, eight rebounds and a team-high four blocks, netting seven of his 10 field goal attempts.
Sherfield, who was tabbed as the preseason Mountain West player of the year, had 17 points on 7-of-16 shooting and was one assist shy of a double-double, finishing with nine.
“I feel like we have so many weapons, so it’s going to make it that much easier to score,” Washington said. “All across the board, we’re going to have scorers.”
The Wolf Pack’s three transfers also put together good debuts, namely former Robert Morris transfer AJ Bramah.
Bramah, who averaged 21.0 points and 10.3 rebounds in 12 games with the Colonials last season, tallied 17 points on a near-perfect 8-of-9 shooting, snatching a team-high nine rebounds in 23 minutes off the bench. Alford noticed the immediate impact that Bramah, who finished with a plus-13 plus-minus, provided.
“He brings so much energy,” Alford said. “I think AJ’s going to continue to emerge as that guy off our bench and minutes will continue to go up. [Bramah], like a lot of guys, got winded tonight. That’s what openers are about because we haven’t had this kind of environment and I thought he did a really good job pushing through a lot of things and he was big for us. His backboard play and what he does efficiently at both ends really helps us.”
Former Texas transfer Will Baker had 13 points on 5-of-10 shooting; Kenan Blackshear (Florida Atlantic) added seven points, three rebounds, five assists and one steal in 18 minutes. Though he was labeled a game-time decision, Nevada forward KJ Hymes (ankle) did not play tonight.
With a complete coaching and personnel overhaul, the Eagles featured a new cast of players on Tuesday.
After losing its top seven scorers to the transfer portal, Eastern Washington’s only three returners that saw action were Steele Venters (28 minutes) Casson Rouse (18 minutes) and Ellis Magnuson (17 minutes).
EWU shot 44.8 percent and 34.6 percent from distance while shooting 70 percent (7-10) from the charity stripe.
Former San Francisco State transfer Linton Acliese III recorded the game’s only double-double: 19 points on 8-of-16 shooting with 12 boards. Former UNC Greensboro transfer Angelo Allegri had 13 points on 5-of-12 shooting with three 3-pointers. Venters, Rylan Bergerson and true freshman Ethan Price added 12 points apiece.
Nevada committed just seven fouls, which has happened just three previous times in the Steve Alford-era — the last time being in its 86-64 victory over William Jessup on Dec. 07, 2020.
“The guys have worked really hard defensively and I was really pleased with our defense because we didn’t foul. Our tendency last year was to foul,” Alford said with a chuckle. “Overall, I thought our positioning was good. We’ve still got to talk better. We weren’t a real talkative team tonight on the court. I thought our bench was good and live, but we got to work at talking and communicating because we had some breakdowns that led to some easy baskets. And we’ll be able to see that in film and try to fix it.”
Tuesday’s game marked the opening day of NCAA Division-I basketball. Thus, Nevada advances to 1-0 while Eastern Washington drops to 0-1. Nevada ranked in the preseason top-50 (49) in KenPom’s rankings, while Eastern Washington placed No. 242.
It also was Nevada’s largest season-opening victory under Alford, entering his third season, skidding out last year’s 14-point win against North Dakota State (62-48).
Washington’s two-handed slam gave the Pack the early 10-6 lead. Back-to-back 3-pointers from Allegri and Venters tied the contest at 15.
Sherfield’s first basket of the season came with 8:07 left in the first half, putting Nevada ahead 25-18. After the Eagles went on a 8-1 run to take the 26-25 lead, the Pack closed the final 4:44 on a 18-8 run, entering halftime with a 43-34 advantage.
Nevada shot 52.9 percent and 44.4 percent from beyond the arc in the first half. Eastern Washington shot 40.0 percent and 38.5 percent from 3-point range.
Washington exited halftime with Nevada’s first six points, putting it ahead 49-36. Bramah’s jumper extended it to 64-46 with 10:58 remaining. Price’s layup followed by Venters fastbreak slam cut it to 70-57 with 6:48 left.
The Pack rattled off an 8-2 run, upping it to 78-61. Acliese’s layup cut it to 85-73 with under two minutes to go, though it was too little, too late to mount any comeback effort. Nevada’s lead didn’t dip below double digits in the final 19:44.
Next up: Nevada close out its season-opening two-game home stint with the San Diego Toreros on Friday, Nov. 12 at 7:00 p.m. PT.