The 8-seeded Nevada Wolf Pack and the 9-seeded New Mexico Lobos tipped off the Mountain West Tournament Wednesday inside Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nev.
Wednesday’s opening round matchup pitted two of the conference’s best backcourt duos against one another. For Nevada, it was Grant Sherfield and Desmond Cambridge; on the other side, it was Jamal Mashburn Jr. (son of Jamal Mashburn Sr.) and speedy guard Jaelen House (son of Eddie House). Each of the four aforementioned guards were named to the All-Mountain West third team nearly 24 hours prior.
The former came out on top; behind a stout performance from Sherfield, the Wolf Pack bested the Lobos, 79-72, advancing them to the quarterfinal round to the tournament on Thursday.
The 6-foot-2 guard — who ended up with 27 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, marking his third career points-rebounds double-double — was uber-important for the Pack down the stretch, especially with Cambridge fouling out with nearly three-and-a-half minutes left. He tallied 15 second-half points and eight of the team’s final 12 points across the game’s final five minutes.
Wednesday’s win gives Nevada, who ended the regular season on a four-game skid and losers in 10 of its last 13, its first win since Feb. 17 against SJSU. It also gave head coach Steve Alford his sixth win in six meetings against his former team, where he coached for six years (2007-13).
Even after the semi-sluggish start, Nevada still shot 51.0 percent with just five triples — all coming in the second half — on 13 attempts.
Cambridge finished with 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting in 19 minutes, netting three of the Pack’s five triples. Will Baker had 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting while Warren Washington added 11 points and eight boards in 25 minutes off the bench.
New Mexico, on the other hand, shot 39.7 percent and 37.0 percent from 3-point range (10-27), which accounted for nearly half of its 72 points.
House notched a team-high 19 points points on 4-of-10 shooting and 10-of-11 from the charity stripe, in additon to his five rebounds and seven assists. Mashburn Jr. recorded 15 points on 5-of-15 shooting from the floor.
Javonte Johnson had 14 points, converting on five of his eight field goal tries, with six boards, while KJ Jenkins added 11 points on 4-of-13 shooting.
Given it’s a tournament game and the last game of the season for one of the two respective teams, it’s fair to assume there was a ton of butterflies roaming in the stomachs of players. The game sure played that way — as both teams combined for 34 turnovers and 36 points off said turnovers.
Both teams also lived at the charity stripe amid a happy whistle: The Wolf Pack went 22-for-30 (73.3 percent) while UNM converted 16 of its 22 (72.7 percent) attempts, both figures resting below their season averages in free-throw efficiency.
Nevada, who possessed an overwhelming size advantage, out-rebounding the Lobos 40-30 — its best rebounding margin since it finished a plus-10 on Feb. 17 — and scored 40 points in the paint, doubling that of New Mexico (20).
The Lobos conclude their season at 13-19. Nevada improves to 13-17 and a chance at Boise State, who it lost to by six (73-67) in Boise to give the Broncos their first outright MWC Title since joining the conference prior to the 2011-12 season.
Sherfield’s steal-and-score gave Nevada the 12-10 lead, though two consecutive triples from Johnson and Mashburn put New Mexico up by four with 12:11 remaining in the opening half. The Lobos canned six of their first nine shots that featured three triples (on five long ball attempts).
Singleton’s layup followed by Forsling’s banked-in triple gave New Mexico the 24-18 lead with under nine minutes to go. House’s four-point play widened it to 30-21, but a 9-1 Pack run trimmed it to one with 1:37 left before the break.
Nevada, despite a slew of self-inflicted miscues (travels, double dribbles, etc.), trailed by just one — 35-34 — entering halftime. It shot 46.2 percent from the floor and 71.4 percent (10-14) from the free-throw line, though it clanked all four of its first-half 3-point attempts. New Mexico shot 52.0 percent, including 50 percent (6-12) from beyond the arc and 42.9 percent (3-7) from the charity stripe.
Both teams combined for 24 first half turnovers (UNM - 14; Nevada - 10), one short of the amount of made field goals (25) both teams had over the game’s first 20 minutes.
Nevada’s first 3-pointer (from Blackshear) and Sherfield’s first assist came with 18:02 to go, tying the contest at 39. Cambridge’s first triple of the afternoon made it 50-43 — prompting a Lobo timeout.
After the deficit was cut to three, Cambridge’s third triple of the half widened to 67-58. From there on out, Sherfield put the team on his back, scoring eight of the team’s final 12 points — including a clutch floater with 45 seconds to go that put the Pack up five. It was the game’s final basket for either team, as Nevada clinched its second tourney victory in as many seasons.
Next up: Nevada and top-seeded Boise State meet in the quarterfinals for the second consecutive year on Thursday, this time on near-opposite ends of the spectrum. The game will tip-off at noon.