Nevada moved into second place in the WAC standings, improving to 18-10 overall and 10-4 in league affairs. The Wolf Pack sits a game back of league-leading Boise State, a 74-68 winner at San Jose State Thursday, in the WAC race.
“We beat an excellent basketball team. (New Mexico State) Coach (Marvin) Menzies has them playing well. It was a great win for our kids,” Nevada coach Mark Fox said.
Nevada, which struggled on offense five days ago in a humbling 74-49 ESPN Bracket Buster road loss at Southern Illinois, looked like a different team after returning home. The Wolf Pack was just 19-of-50 from the floor in the loss to the Salukis, but was much better Thursday night. Nevada made good on a sizzling 61.4 percent (35-of-57) of its shots against New Mexico State.
Shooting was the main difference. While New Mexico State hung close or even won many statistical categories, it knocked down only 33-of-77 attempts on a night when the hoop looked larger than life to Wolf Pack shooters.
Every time New Mexico State tried to get within striking distance, Nevada had an answer. The Aggies never got closer than eight points in the second half. That margin came at 88-80 after a Herb Pope bucket with 2:09 to go. Nevada responded by scoring seven of the next nine points to secure the win.
Nevada led by 12 at the half and extended its lead to 17, 61-44, following a sequence that saw Nevada nail four free throws, two by Marcelus Kemp on a technical foul and two more by Brandon Fields, who was fouled on the play. The clock showed 15:52 in the second half after the key foul shots.
Fields led all scorers on the night, pouring in a career-high 29 points.
“I’ve been very hard on him. He had a long week and I’m not sure I spoke to him all week until yesterday,” Fox said. “I expect him to play better than he’s been playing.”
New Mexico State answered with its best run of the night, an 11-3 outburst that saw it trim Nevada’s lead to 64-55 after a Wendell McKines bucket with 12:19 remaining in the contest.
However, Nevada stopped the defensive bleeding. A modest 15-9 run saw the Wolf Pack push its lead back to 15, 79-64, five minutes later. Still, New Mexico State did not go away, hanging around until the final minutes.
Nevada dominated most of the first half. The Wolf Pack pushed its lead to 18 when Kemp dropped a 3-point bomb for a 41-23 Nevada lead at the 3:51 mark of the first half.
The Pack’s lead was 17 a minute later after another Kemp 3, but New Mexico State circled the wagons in the final three minutes before halftime. The Aggies scored eight of the next 10 points capped by a pair of Herb Pope free throws and a Pope dunk.Nevada wound up with a 47-35 halftime edge after Kemp knocked down 1-of-2 foul shots with 2.5 seconds to go in the first half.
Nevada’s 47-point first-half was due in large part to a 63.3 percent (19-30) shooting show before the intermission. New Mexico State converted 14-of-37 first-half field-goal attempts.
The Wolf Pack came out of the gates rolling. A runner on the break by Fields gave Nevada 10-1 lead four minutes into the conference clash.
“They jumped out to that quick lead and we had to get out of our half-court man-to-man a little bit, which had been effective lately,” Menzies said.
A Pope dunk with 10:22 remaining before halftime got New Mexico State within eight, 24-16. Nevada scored the next six points and the visiting Aggies did not get within single digits again in the first half as the Wolf Pack proceeded to go on a 17-7 spurt.
Kemp had a big offensive outing for Nevada as well, chipping in 27 points. JaVale McGee and Armon Johnson added 12 and 11 points respectively for the Wolf Pack.
Four New Mexico State players posted double digits in the scoring column. Justin Hawkins and Jahmar Young led the way for the Aggies with 19 and 18 points. Pope and Jonathon Gibson both contributed 13 points to the losing cause.
New Mexico State committed fewer turnovers than Nevada 18-11. It got more second-chance points, 20-14, and saw its bench score 30 points to the 10 of Nevada reserves. Still, the Las Cruces school could not overcome Nevada’s red-hot shooting night.
“They (Nevada) did a really good job preparing for the game,” Menzies said. “They played like they wanted to defend their home floor.”
Nevada plays its final regular season home game Saturday at 6 p.m. when Louisiana Tech (4-22, 1-12) comes to Northern Nevada.