After a 27-point road loss against No. 6 Kansas to close 2021, Nevada began the New Year on the right track.
The Nevada Wolf Pack, once leading by 19 with under five minutes remaining, escaped with the 79-70 victory over the New Mexico Lobos on Saturday.
New Mexico, playing its first game in over a week-and-a-half, led 36-35 at halftime and only trailed by two with 14 minutes remaining.
From the 14-minute mark to the 4:36 mark, the Pack outscored the Lobos — who hit just one of their first 12 shots to open the second half — 30-11.
“I thought our energy was good, I thought our intensity was good and I thought for 40 minutes, we really defended — especially in the second half,” Nevada head coach Steve Alford said after the game. “I thought, in the second half, we had a good 14-minute stretch where we were really hard to play against ... The physicality, especially when you get into league play, has got to be there. And I thought we brought that tonight.”
The once 19-point lead did, however, get trimmed down to six with 1:40 remaining and needed stout backcourt duo of Grant Sherfield and Desmond Cambridge — its top two closers — to slam the door amid unusually rough shooting nights.
Sherfield, who finished with 10 points, six rebounds and 10 assists, did not record his first basket until 13:50 remaining — giving Nevada the 46-41 advantage. Desmond Cambridge hit his first-and-only 3 (on his eighth 3-point attempt) with 8:01 remaining and missed 10 3s for only the second time of his collegiate career.
Nevertheless, they — and Nevada — still found a way, something that might not have been said a season ago.
Though they combined to shoot 8-of-28 (28.6 percent) from the floor, Sherfield and Cambridge combined to knock down 8-of-9 from the charity stripe in the final 1:17 to earn the nine-point victory and its first win of the new calender year.
“We were able to get a nine-point win with Des having an off-shooting night and Grant, for the most part, had an off-shooting night, but Grant had 10 (points), 10 (assists) and six (rebounds). I thought he really ran the show well for us. Then Des ended up with 18 (points) and really guarded well,” Alford said. “I don’t know if a month ago — if we could’ve just had those guys go 8-for-28 from the field — I don’t know if we’d win that. We had a lot of other guys step up and score.”
On the evening, Nevada shot 42.6 percent and a season-low 26.1 percent from beyond the arc. It’s previous two games this season of sub-30.0 3-point shooting resulted in losses.
Sherfield’s double-double marked his second of the season and the fifth of his collegiate career. His 10 assists also tied a season-high and were four short of tying a career high, set against Boise State on Feb. 5, 2021.
Cambridge, an All-Mountain West guard, finished with a team-high 18 points on just 6-of-20 shooting and 1-of-11 from deep.
Nevada’s 7-foot duo of Warren Washington and Will Baker both recorded double-doubles — Baker’s first and Washington’s second of 2021-22 — tallying 12 points and 11 rebounds apiece.
Tre Coleman had his best shooting night of the season, adding a season-high 13 points on 4-of-7 shooting with a pair of 3s after entering Saturday 10-of-55 (18.2 percent) from the floor and 6-26 (23.1 percent) from distance.
“We need Tre playing that way,” Alford said. “He’s got to get more aggressive offensively because he’s a very good defender and we got him out there because of his defense. He gets 33 minutes tonight, but gets four rebounds, really guarded and I thought he took really good shots and he made those shots.”
New Mexico shot 35.9 percent and wasn’t much better than Nevada from distance, knocking down just 34.6 percent of its 26 attempts.
Jaelen House tallied a team-high 18 points for the Lobos on 4-of-16 shooting, including 9-of-10 from the free-throw line, in addition to six assists and three steals.
Jamal Mashburn Jr., the team’s top scorer entering Saturday, had 17 points on 6-of-17 shooting and 3-of-8 from 3-point range. Saquan Singleton had 14 points with four boards, three assists and a steal, but was limited to just 18 minutes due to foul trouble.
Saturday’s win pushes Nevada to 7-5 on the season. It’s now won eight of its 10 Mountain West openers — including six straight — since joining the conference before the 2012-13 season. New Mexico falls to an even 7-7 and 14-9 all-time in Mountain West openers.
Nevada’s held six of its last seven opponents to 70 points or fewer on sub-43.0 percent shooting. In the first five games, all but one of the Pack’s first five opponents had at least 75 points on 44 percent shooting or better.
“From the second game of the South Dakota trip (sixth game of season), we’ve had tremendous growth defensively,” Alford said. “We’ve got to continue to do that ... Other than the Kansas game, we’ve hit our defensive efficiency five out of six games. So we’ve shown progress there and we showed progress at handling the ball better, taking better shots and our offense started clicking.”
An 8-0 Lobo run — capped by House’s layup — put them ahead 13-7 early. Jeremiah Francis’ 3-pointer widened the Lobo lead to 22-13 with 10:10 left in the first half.
Washington and Baker — the 7-foot-duo — accounted for 13 of Nevada’s first 15 points — 12 coming in the painted area. Blackshear’s three-point play conversion gave Nevada the 25-24 lead with 5:30 remaining int he opening half.
Singleton’s jumper gave New Mexico the 33-29 lead. Cambridge’s steal followed by his alley-oop finish with six seconds left made it 36-35 entering halftime.
The Pack, who shot 38.7 percent and 2-of-10 from beyond the arc, had just eight combined points from Sherfield and Cambridge, their two-leading scorers entering Saturday. Nevada tallied 18 of its 35 points inside the paint. New Mexico shot 41.9 percent, including 4-of-11 (36.4 percent) from distance in the opening half.
Blackshear’s steal followed by Sherfield’s alley-oop to Baker put Nevada ahead 42-39. Sherfield’s first basket — an above-the-break 3-pointer — came with 13:50 remaining gave the Wolf Pack the 46-41 lead.
Coleman’s two-handed slam followed by Cambridge’s only 3-pointer gave Nevada the 59-48 lead with 7:47 remaining.
“At some point in the second half, we had a timeout and I told everyone to give (Coleman) a hand to where everybody started because in 2021, as a 6-foot-6 guard, he did not have a dunk,” Alford said with a smirk. “In the first day of 2022, he had a dunk and we all applauded him for that.”
Coleman’s corner 3-pointer followed by Blackshear’s corner triple put Nevada ahead 69-50 — capping off a 17-2 run — with 5:34 left. House’s layup cut the deficit to six, 71-65, with 2:37 remaining, but Nevada strung together enough stops-and-scores (free throws) late to clinch its first Mountain West victory of the season.
Next up: The Wolf Pack will conclude its two-game homestand to begin Mountain West play with the Wyoming Cowboys on Tuesday.