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Nevada cruises to a 98-62 victory over Minnesota Duluth, earning fourth straight win

Syndication: Reno Gazette Journal JASON BEAN/RGJ / USA TODAY NETWORK

In its first game in over two weeks, the Nevada Wolf Pack cruised to a 98-62 victory over the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs on Wednesday behind a dominant second-half performance at Lawlor Events Center in Reno, Nev.

Nevada’s last two games — against North Texas and UT-Arlington — were both canceled due to COVID-19 issues within the program.

The Pack began Wednesday with some justifiable rust, committing 12 first-half turnovers against its Division-II counterpart, who’s ranked No. 12 in the nation by the D2SIDA media poll and No. 17 in the NABC coaches poll.

“A lot of that has to do with not playing for two weeks and not getting a lot of practice,” Nevada head coach Steve Alford said postgame. “I’m not as concerned about that.”

The dust eventually flew off its shoulder. Nevada, who led by 12 at halftime, exited on a 7-0 run. Though the deficit was eventually cut back to 12, the Pack outscored the Bulldogs 20-4 over an eight-minute span to blast their advantage to 78-48. It did not dip below 26 points in the remainder 9:27 of game time.

The Wolf Pack nearly doubled Minnesota Duluth’s second-half score (51-27), cutting its first half turnover total in half (6) with a 52.8 field goal percentage over the final 20 minutes. In total, they shot 51.5 percent from the floor and 41.7 percent from 3-point range, despite the 18 total turnovers.

“I thought our shot selection was really good,” Alford said. “We were consistent. We scored 47 (in the first half) and 51 (in the second half). We got to the free throw line 24 times and we made them. We had really good balanced scoring — we had four guys in double figures and got a lot of good play out of everyone.”

The two-week layoff didn’t affect Nevada’s dominant backcourt duo of Desmond Cambridge and Grant Sherfield one bit. They were, once again, at the forefront of its success. Both tallied 20-plus points for their fourth straight outing and combined for 53 of Nevada’s 98 points.

“Me and [Cambridge] are always in the gym. That’s where we live at. It’s hard to miss a step when you prepare for everything,” Sherfield said after the game. “We’re going to continue to stay in the gym and try to continue to get better because we got two more great opponents coming in, in Loyola Marymount and Grand Canyon, so we just have to be ready.”

Sherfield came one assist shy of a triple double, which would’ve been Nevada’s first since 1979. He tallied a game-high 28 points on 10-of-16 shooting with a career-high 12 rebounds, nine assists and one steal.

It was Sherfield’s second career collegiate game (first with Nevada) grabbing double-digit boards. The only other time came on Dec. 29, 2019, as a freshman with Wichita State, snatching 11 in an 18-point victory over Abilene Christian.

Alford said they tried getting the 6-foot-2 guard his triple-double, leaving him in until 42 seconds left in the game.

“We tried,” he said with a smirk. “I kept [Sherfield] in their as long as I could. I told him that I didn’t want the triple double to be in turnovers because we had three turnovers in the last two minutes he played.”

Cambridge finished with 25 points on 9-of-14 shooting and 6-of-9 shooting from deep, totaling seven rebounds, two steals and a team-high two blocks. Will Baker had 17 points on 7-of-12 shooting and nine rebounds. Kenan Blackshear tallied his first double-double of the season — the second of his career — posting 13 points while grabbing 11 rebounds.

Nevada had just eight players active with Warren Washington (foot), Alem Huseinovic and DeAndre Henry all inactive. Alford was really pleased with his depth — including Blackshear, making his second start of the season, as well as Jalen Weaver (five points, 2-3 FG), Tre Coleman (3 rebounds, 1 block), Daniel Foster (3 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists) and K.J. Hymes (7 points, 4 rebounds).

“I thought Kenan [Blackshear] did some really good things. He gets the double-double with 11 rebounds; Daniel [Foster] really played well; Tre [Coleman]’s not shooting the ball well, but he really guards; and it was really great seeing Jalen [Weaver]. Jalen hadn’t played much. And Jalen got an opportunity to play tonight and got a couple baskets and I thought really guarded and did a lot of good things in his 17 minutes. I thought overall, from top to bottom, the eight that played did a really good job.

“K.J. [Hymes] has been out with a sprained ankle for the better part of the year. He played a little bit in the Pepperdine game and then we get two weeks off. So he just hadn’t had a lot of run,” Alford said. “His conditioning’s getting better and he’s feeling better. K.J.’s a huge key because he’s not only big and talented, but he’s been around. He’s a junior that’s been here a while, so he gives you that versatility that way.”

Minnesota Duluth shot just 34.7 percent and 30.3 percent from 3-point range.

Charlie Katona had a team-high 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the flood, adding team-highs in both rebounds (8) and blocks (2).

Drew Blair, it’s leading scorer entering the evening (19.5 ppg), had 14 points on 5-of-16 from the floor and with a team-most four 3-pointers (on nine attempts); nobody else had more than two 3s. He added a team-high three steals. Joshua Brown totaled 12 points with six rebounds and three assists on 5-of-12 shooting.

The Wolf Pack dominated the glass with its sheer size advantage over the Bulldogs, who had just one player above 6-foot-8. They finished a plus-27 on the glass — their largest rebounding margin since they racked up a plus-27 advantage (56-29) against Fresno State on Feb. 13, 2016.

Alford complimented the team’s overall defensive effort.

“We took a team that we could really score and really shoot — they were averaging about 88 (points per game) — and we hold them to 62 (points) and we hold them to 34 percent shooting,” he said. “I thought we did good job contesting things, for the most part. We kept them off the free throw line ... We’ve had four games in a row here where our habits have been much better than our first four games. We seem to be a more cohesive unit; we’re together more; we’re working together better and that’s good to see.”

The Wolf Pack improve to 5-4 on the season. Fortunately enough for the nationally-ranked Bulldogs, this only counts as an exhibition game (it does not for Nevada), keeping their perfect 11-0 record intact.

Nevada committed four turnovers in the first 3:19. Back-to-back 3-pointers from Sherfield and Cambridge gave it the 10-8 lead with 15:46 left in the first half. The Pack eventually jumped ahead 21-8 — capping off 14 unanswered points — courtesy of Sherfield’s floater.

Both teams traded runs.

Sloppy play and miscommunication defensively allowed the Bulldogs to quickly re-cut the lead to two. But Blackshear’s triple capped a 10-2 run, giving the Pack the 42-32 advantage with 2:25 left in the half.

Nevada entered halftime with the 47-35 lead after Cambridge’s corner 3-point buzzer beater — generated after collecting his own rebound.

The Wolf Pack, who had 12 first half turnovers, shot 50 percent in the first half, including 6-of-11 (54.5 percent) from beyond the arc. Minnesota Duluth knocked down 37.5 percent of its first half attempts and 29.4 percent from 3-point land.

Nevada opened the second half on a 7-0 run — capped by Cambridge’s 3-pointer generated by his lightning quick release — taking a 19-point lead and forcing the Bulldog timeout just 1:54 into the half.

The deficit was trimmed to 12 once again with 15:56 remaining, but the Wolf Pack countered with a 20-4 run over the next 7:59 — widening it to 78-48. Baker’s dunk increased it to 86-57 with 5:17 left. They outscored Minnesota Duluth 12-5 over that final stretch to earn the dominant 36-point victory, albeit against a Division-II foe.

Next up: Nevada’s second of three straight at home to close the non-conference season ends with Loyola Marymount on Saturday, Dec. 18. Tip-off will be at 8:00 p.m. PT on CBS Sports Network, its first nationally televised game of the 2021-22 season.