That was Eric Musselman’s reaction every time his team launched a 3-pointer during Nevada’s first two exhibition games and its regular-season opener. The Wolf Pack earned that reaction by bricking far more long-range shots than it made in those contests, drilling just 18-of-76 3-pointers, a 23.7 conversion rate.
But in Friday night’s 83-61 romp over Pacific before 10,561 fans at Lawlor Events Center, Musseman’s reaction was far from, “Uh-oh!” It was instead “Oh yeah!” After a slow start from three – No. 7/9 Nevada made just two of its first seven long-range attempts against Pacific – the Wolf Pack caught fire, hitting 15-of-31 treys to burst past Pacific.
“Our 3-point shooting altered and changed the game,” Musselman said.
Caleb Martin hit five 3-pointers, Tre’Shawn Thurman and Jazz Johnson each hit three and Jordan Caroline and Cody Martin both knocked down two. The 15 3-pointers were two shy of the school record of 17, set last season, also against Pacific. If only Musselman knew how close Nevada was to that record.
“I didn’t know we were that close or I would have told them to launch a few more,” Musselman said.
The win wasn’t wire-to-wire but the final outcome wasn’t ever in doubt despite a slow start offensively for Nevada, which again faced a zone defense against a team that doesn’t typically sit in a zone. But with the Wolf Pack’s offensive arsenal strong, teams have dared Nevada to beat it by hitting threes. That strategy might have worked for the first couple of teams the Wolf Pack faced. It didn’t work for Pacific.
“It was great,” Thurman said of Nevada’s 3-point shooting warming up. “I know we were struggling from three (in an exhibition) against Washington. There are a lot of people writing in the media that we can’t shoot the 3-pointer like last year. The crazy part is we still have a couple guys who haven’t got going yet.”
Those guys are Corey Henson and Nisré Zouzoua, who were 0-for-4 from three against Pacific and are 1-of-12 from three in the Wolf Pack’s first two games. But Nevada’s other shooters had little trouble against the Tigers (1-1), with the Wolf Pack hitting more 3-pointers (15) than two-pointers (10). Nevada also did an excellent job of getting to the free throw line, hitting 18-of-27 shots from the charity stripe.
“I like the mix of a lot of 3-point attempts and a lot of free throw attempts,” Musselman said. “That formula has worked for us for two years. When you watch us practice the 3-ball, it was just a matter of time before they started dropping. I’m really proud of Tre Thurman. He’s worked hard on 3-point shooting. When he came here, he was not a 3-point threat, but he’s made four 3-balls in a two-game season.”
Thurman was one of five Wolf Pack players in double-figures. The Wolf Pack was led by Caleb Martin’s 22 points and six rebounds. Caroline scored 16 points despite resting for most of the second half. Thurman added 14 points, Johnson 12 and Cody Martin had a double-double (11 points, 10 assists).
“These guys make my life easy and I really do appreciate them,” said Cody Martin, who recorded double-digit assists for the second straight game. “They have a lot of confidence in me because they know I’m an unselfish person, I don’t care about points and I didn’t even know how many assists I had. They’re making things easy and our chemistry is coming along and we’re starting to understand each other’s game and we’re knocking shots down and getting a feel for each other and that translates.”
Cody’s brother, Caleb, was held scoreless in the first half for the second straight game only to explode after intermission. In Tuesday’s win over BYU, Caleb scored 21 second-half points. In the Pacific victory, he tallied 22 second-half points, meaning all 43 of his points this season have come after intermission.
“Scouting reports are so centered on him and he’s getting other guys involved early in the game,” said Musselman, who has pounded the ball inside to Trey Porter to start both of Nevada’s games. “Last year, we went to Caleb a lot early in the game and now we’re going to him in the second half.”
McDonald’s All-American Jordan Brown, who played just five minutes in the BYU win, also got some extended playing time. In 21 minutes, Brown had five points, seven rebounds and three blocks. He made 2-of-7 shots from the field and was 1-of-5 from the free throw line but looked more comfortable than in the opener.
“The truth of the matter is when you’re ranked in the top 10 you don’t have much margin for error and you’re coaching and treating every possession like the last game we’re every going to play and then it’s hard to get guys in a rhythm and let guys play through their mistakes,” Musselman said of Brown’s limited playing time against BYU. “Obviously we feel overly confident that Jordan is going to have a phenomenal year and he’s young and he’s playing against some older guys.”
Said Brown: “I just try to fit my role. It’s a team full of seniors, full of veterans. They’ve been here before, done it, I’m trusting they’ll do what they need to do and I’ll help whatever way I can.”
Defensively for Nevada, it was the same story as the BYU game. A strong first half of defense got a little sloppy in the second half, but overall it was a good showing. Nevada held Pacific to 41.7 percent shooting, including 5-of-20 from three, noticeable progress after getting carved by Washington in an exhibition game loss. Musselman said that Washington game has paid dividends.
“Better with each game,” Musselman said of his team. “I thought maybe in the first game in that first half, the Washington game, we felt like we were just going to win because we were at home and we won a lot of games last year. I don’t want to say it woke us up, but it brought our attention to how hard every game is and that’s why we wanted to play them, they’re a good, physical, tall team.”
Nevada (2-0) learned some lessons from that game and the win over Pacific moved the Wolf Pack to 23-0 in home non-conference games under Musselman, the buzz around the program continuing to build. Nevada’s game against BYU drew the 15th largest crowd in Lawlor Events Center history. The Pacific game welcomed the 22nd most fans.
“I love the crowd,” Thurman said. “That’s the No. 1 thing. I think we had (10,561) tonight and about (11,000) last game. I just love the energy the crowd brings and I feed off that. Guys like me, Cody, Caleb, Jordan Brown, Trey, Jazz, we feed off them and that’s the biggest thing I’ve noticed so far this season.”
Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @MurrayNSN.