The University of Nevada men's basketball team dropped its third straight game Wednesday night, 75-67, to Fresno State, and is now just 6-6 in games played at Lawlor Events Center.
“I don’t know what it is. We don’t shoot the ball well at home. The offense really struggles at home,” Nevada coach David Carter said. “We shoot the ball in practice in a lot. We shot the ball the last two days, so I don’t know.”
The Pack (12-13, 7-5 in the Mountain West) dropped below third place in the conference for the first time this year while the Bulldogs, who came into the game tied for eighth place in the conference, improved to 12-13, 5-7 in the Mountain West with their fourth straight win.
The frustrations started with Deonte Burton scoring just two points in the first half and missing his first seven free throws. Burton finished with a co team-high 14 points and finished 3-of-10 from the charity stripe. Jerry Evans Jr. also scored 14 points.
As a team Nevada hit 16-of-27 freebies. Fresno State connected on 22-of-26.
“When you miss seven free throws you can’t get frustrated,” Carter said. “You have to step up and make some shots, make some free throws. When you miss (seven) in a row at one point, that really dictated how the game was going to go in the second half.”
The frustrations continued with a scoreless streak spanning 3:48 late in the second half that saw Fresno grab a 63-57 lead after Burton tied the game at 57 with his lone 3 of the night.
Carter said the offensive blank that cost his team the game was not the result of poor offense, but poor defense. He pointed to his team shooting 52 percent in the second half to back his claim.
And the frustrations were finally characterized by getting out-rebounded by the worst rebounding team in the conference – 37-34.
Twelve of Fresno State’s rebounds came on the offensive glass that led to 14 second-chance points compared to Nevada’s six.
“They got two (offensive rebounds) on missed free throws. They got two tipins … Again, it’s not blocking out,” Carter said of his group’s rebounding woes. “It’s just effort.”
AJ West ended Nevada’s scoring drought with 4:21 left, connecting on 1-of-2 free throws to draw the Pack within five. Michael Perez (11 points) hit a 3-pointer with 3:40 to close within a possession, 63-60, but Paul Watson’s putback, followed by his dagger from behind arc with 1:39 left, sent most of the 6,060 to the exits. Fresno’s 68-60 advantage at that point was the largest of the game for either team.
Evans Jr. hit a shot in the lane and a trey on the next possession to sneak Nevada with 70-65 within 56.8 seconds left but Cezar Guerrrero (12 points) hit all four of his free throws in the final minute to end any uncertainty.
Fresno's Tyler Johnson was a shooting migraine for Nevada, finishing with a game-high 17 points and connecting on 3-of-4 shots from 3-point land. Fresno State shot 36 percent (9-of-25) from 3 while Nevada shot 38.9 percent (7-of-18) from deep.
Struggling on the defensive side of the ball for the third consecutive game (all losses), Carter said numerous failed assignments led to collapses that led Fresno State to kick to an open shooter.
“They played four guards and one big guy and we did the scouting report. The five (AJ West most of the time) has to help a lot more and AJ wasn’t helping. He was staying close to his guy, trying to block shots at the rim,” Carter said. “You can’t block shots at the rim when you got a kid like Tyler (Watson), who finishes at the rim.”
Nevada led by as much as six in the first half, at the 5:30 mark after a West 3-point play but the Bulldogs closed the half on a 10-4 to grab a 32-32 tie.
Undoubtedly sliding, Nevada must find a way to finish in the top five in the Mountain West, with six games remaining, to earn a first-round bye the Mountain West Championships. The Pack fell into a fourth-place tie with Wyoming with the loss.
The remaining games include a home-and-away with second-place New Mexico, at Boise State and home against UNLV.
“You only have a few games left, you don’t have a lot,” Carter said. “And we’re tied for fourth now. So now you drop into that position where you’re in that hunt (and) you can drop into fourth, or seventh or eighth or something like that. So it’s a dangerous position to be in.”
Nevada will try to stop the bleeding Saturday at Air Force. Tip is at 1 p.m.
Coach Carter did not allow players to speak to the media after the game.