Czyz scored 12 of Nevada’s first 18 points and helped the Wolf Pack storm out of the gates to a double-digit lead in a game it never trailed, en route to a 75-67 second-round NIT triumph over Patriot League foe Bucknell.
Nevada used a pair of 6-0 runs to jump out to an early lead. Bucknell stood around and watched the home team score the first six points of the game in less than a two-minute span.
The Bison got on the board thanks to a little luck that carried over from St. Patrick’s Day a day before. An air ball 3-point attempt landed in junior center Mike Muscala’s hands. He went up with the putback and was fouled. He converted the three-point play, slicing the gap in half, 6-3.
With Nevada leading 8-5, the Pack strung together another streak of six straight points to go up 14-5 with 13:46 to go in the half.
Czyz’s 12th point of the game on a bucket down low, pushed the advantage to double digits for the first time, 18-7, at the 12:23 mark of the first half.
The Bison had its own player scoring the majority of its early points. Muscala poured in his team’s first seven points. But when he was doubled and kicked the ball back out to Cameron Ayers, Bucknell cut the deficit to 19-12 on the trey.
That didn’t slow down the WAC’s regular-season champion though.
Malik Story drained a shot from the outside, extending the home team’s lead to 24-14
The margin was still 10 when Czyz pulled down an offensive rebound, used a spin move to go baseline and dropped in an easy bucket. His 16th point of the first half padded the cushion to 10 again, 30-20, with five minutes to go before the break.
Still, Nevada couldn’t shake the No. 8 seed.
A pair of Muscala free throws gave him his 11th point of the game and cut it back down to five, 30-25. Following a Story jumper, Ayers started feeling it, knocking down his third 3-pointer of the half. That got the Bison to within four, 32-28, with just over three minutes to play in the first half.
While all the attention was on Czyz, Story was quietly dominating in his own right. The junior guard ignited Nevada’s 10-1 run to close out the first half with back-to-back-to-back buckets, leaving the Pack in a 42-29 lead. Like Czyz, Story had 16 points in the first 20 minutes.
Nevada shot a scorching 15-of-25 from the field, while holding Bucknell to only 8-of-22 shooting in the first half.
It was evident the Bison wasn’t just going to make the cross-country trip for nothing as it scored the first four points of the second half in a 46-second stint, closing the gap to single digits, 42-33.
Junior forward Joe Willman knocked down a jumper from the free-throw line, pulling Bucknell even closer, 44-37. However, on the ensuing trip down the floor, Willman was called for his fourth foul on a Czyz made field goal. The three-point play gave Nevada a 47-37 edge with 16:10 on the second-half clock.
The lead hovered around the eight to 10-point margin for most of the second half until the Bison made its final move.
Nevada went up 66-57 on a Jerry Evans Jr. layup with 4:18 left in the contest. But with 3:24 on the clock, Bucknell’s Bryan Cohen drained a three-ball making it a 66-60 game.
One minute and 40 seconds later, it was Bryson Johnson’s turn, nailing a long-range jumper that made it a one-possession game, 68-65. But the Pack’s defense stepped up, holding the Bison without a field goal over the final 1:54 of the game.
“We scratched and clawed our way back, and I’m proud of them, but we just didn’t have enough,” Bucknell coach Dave Paulson said.
Nevada did what it needed to do in the final minute from the free-throw line, extending its lead from three with 44.6 seconds left to the final eight-point margin, advancing as one of the final eight teams in the NIT.
Czyz paced Nevada with 24 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the floor and 9-of-11 of the line. Story added 18, while Deonte Burton had 10.
“I felt like I had a mismatch all night,” Czyz said. “I just felt I had to be aggressive all night and I was. I was just going at them. No matter who was guarding me, I found a way to score.”
Muscala led all scorers with 25 and Ayers finished with 21. No one else on Bucknell (25-10) scored more than six.
Nevada (28-6) will face the winner of the Stanford-Illinois St. game, which is at 8:30 p.m. tonight. If third-seeded Stanford wins, Nevada will have to go on the road. If No. 7 Illinois St. pulls off the upset, Nevada fans will get to watch one last home game that will decide who will earn a trip to Madison Square Garden for the NIT’s Final Four. If hosting, the Wolf Pack will play at the Reno Events Center.