The Wolf Pack improved to 9-8 overall, 4-0 in the Mountain West Conference and won the fifth game in its last six contests. The visiting Aggies fell to 11-4, 1-2 in the MWC.
“It’s like the Vegas win (74-71 win at UNLV on Wednesday). We held serve at home. It feels good to win the game but we still have to go back there (to Utah State) and play them in a couple weeks,” Nevada coach David Carter said.
Powered by a defense that is starting to show its worth, Nevada nearly eliminated Utah State’s shooting threat. The Aggies came into Saturday’s game leading the MWC in three-point field goal percentage (.488) and field goal percentage (.505).
Nevada held Utah State – averaging 79 points per game – to 2-of-16 from behind the arc (.125) and 21-of-67 overall (.313).
“You have to give credit to your defense sometime because you get a hand up. But they probably had some good looks and they’re going to look at the tape and say that that they would probably make that at home.” Carter said. “But I thought our defense was outstanding. They didn’t make a 3-point shot in the second half.”
AJ West continued to make his new presence on the court felt, limiting Utah State big man Jarred Shaw. Shaw missed a number of open looks early and led all scorers with 19 but connected on just 7-of-20 shots from the floor, most of which came with West guarding him.
“He (Shaw) is a strong player,” West said. “I was just trying to get under his skin a little bit, I wanted to block his shot.”
West, who has played a major factor in Nevada’s midseason turnaround, finished with 11 points and seven rebounds, six on the offensive side. The Brooklyn native scored Nevada’s first six points of the game, putting back three offensive boards. He also finished with three blocks.
The Wolf Pack took a 32-28 lead into the break before opening the second half on 13-2 run to grab its biggest lead of the game, 45-30, at the 16:32 mark in the second half. Utah State whittled the gap to 56-50 with 4:09 left after a Spencer Butterfield layup but Nevada’s lead would not shrink any further.
Cole Huff hit one of his four shots from behind the arc with 2:51 left to extend the lead back to nine – an insurmountable gap for the Aggies.
Huff took over Deonte Burton’s typical role as Nevada’s leading scorer, finishing with 16 points. Burton was not far behind, however, with 14.
“I love it,” Burton said. “Like I’ve said before, I don’t care if I score three points, two points, as long as we come out with a (win), a victory, I’m happy.”
Saturday’s meeting drew the largest home crowd of the year, 6,142. Following a Westput back that pushed Nevada to the 45-30 lead early in the second half, the crowd came to its feet and produced arguably the most noise of the season.
“It was a great crowd. I thought they were really into it from start to finish,” Carter said. “They (Utah State) pulled in close within six or four and I thought they really gave us a boost, gave us some energy to pull ahead, get it back up to eight or 10. And that’s what our home-court advantage should be. We need our fans to be energetic because we play a lot of good teams here and our kids feed of that.”
In hopes of building on the team’s momentum and putting more butts in the seats, the athletic department is selling tickets for Tuesday’s home game with Boise State for $2.
The tickets are for the upper concourse and buyers must purchase a minimum of four tickets. Those interested must use the promotion code ‘NVTOO’ and make the purchase by 5 p.m. on Monday.
The Pack’s tip with the Broncos is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. on Tuesday.