After Nevada’s lopsided loss Saturday at New Mexico, its first defeat of the season, a game in which Caleb Martin played poorly, the team’s preseason All-American texted the Wolf Pack coaching staff.
“I don’t deserve to start,” the reigning Mountain West player of the year told assistant coach Gus Argenal.
Martin wasn’t playing up to his capabilities, and he saw his teammates working hard in practice but not getting many minutes in the game. He believed that was unfair. He wasn’t being productive. Somebody else should get a shot to start in his spot. So on Wednesday night at Lawlor Events Center in the Wolf Pack’s first game since its first loss, coach Eric Musselman shook up his starting lineup against San Jose State.
After using the same starting five in the team’s first 15 games, he took Martin and Tre’Shawn Thurman out of the starting lineup and inserted Corey Henson and Jordan Brown. And while the early returns weren’t great – Nevada’s lead over SJSU was a modest nine points 26 minutes into the contest – the Wolf Pack finally came to life before blowing out the hapless Spartans, 92-53, before 10,432 fans.
And it was Martin who sparked Nevada’s fire. After scoring just two points on 1-of-7 shooting in the first half, including an air-ball three, a missed layup and bricks on both of his free throw attempts, Martin scored 21 points after intermission, hitting all six of his 3-pointers while making 7-of-8 shots overall.
“Once he gets going,” Martin’s brother, Cody, said, “it’s over.”
The Wolf Pack followed Martin’s lead. Holding a nine-point advantage with 14 minutes remaining, Nevada went on a 12-0 run that turned into a 20-2 run that turned into a 30-4 run. By the time that was over, SJSU was wiped out. After making just three of its first 21 3-point attempts, Nevada made nine of its next 10, living and dying offensively with the three, with Musselman’s trusting his shooters would heat up.
"We feel like the floodgates are coming,” Musselman said. “It’s just a matter of when.”
While Martin, who subbed himself out of the game in the first half because he was playing poorly and felt he didn’t deserve minutes, led Nevada in points, it truly was a team effort in the win, which was the Wolf Pack’s most lopsided of the season. Jordan Caroline had 19 points, Henson took advantage of his first start at Nevada with 15 points, seven assists and four steals and Cody Martin added 14 points, five assists and five rebounds. Jazz Johnson (nine points) and Brown (eight points, seven rebounds) were both productive, and Porter added 13 rebounds in 21 minutes against SJSU’s big front line.
“I thought everybody who got in the game," Musselman said, "there was something they did really well. TP’s rebounding was something we needed. To get 13 rebounds in 21 minutes is not easy. Across the board a lot of contributions and as the season progresses you’re always trying to tinker and tonight was a breakout game for Corey Henson.”
One of the reasons Martin said he wanted to come off the bench was because he wanted to give Henson a chance to start and get into a rhythm. The transfer from Wagner had shown solid glimpses this season but received inconsistent minutes. Henson played more than 20 minutes just once in the team's first 15 games and didn’t even play in three of them. But in a season-high 32 minutes against SJSU, Henson showed what he's capable of, adding both offensively and defensively to the team.
“I just knew I had to step up to the opportunity," Henson said. "I had a couple of DNPs, I had a couple games where I didn’t play that much. It’s been a battle. I knew when I was given this opportunity I’d have to step up.”
Nevada (15-1, 2-1 MW) creamed SJSU (3-11, 0-2) in basically every facet of the game. It out-scored the Spartans in the paint (46-28), off turnovers (27-5), on the fastbreak (16-2) and from its bench (36-12). The Wolf Pack held SJSU to 40 percent shooting, including 7-of-24 from three (29.2 percent). It also had a 38-36 edge in rebounding, one of the few areas where the Spartans are better than average.
“I thought defensively for 40 minutes tonight we were really, really good,” Musselman said.
Musselman said Martin offering to come off the bench showed what kind of teammate he is. That being said, “we’re not going to make a habit of Caleb Martin not starting,” he added. Musselman said the Wolf Pack’s starting five will be fluid for the immediate future and will hinge on health (a few players on the team, including Johnson, are dealing with an illness) and the strengths of the team’s opponent that night.
On Wednesday, the new starting five worked well, something Musselman predicted before the game given his team was coming off a loss (Nevada improved to 26-3 during his tenure following a defeat).
“My sister wished me good luck,” Musselman said, “and I told her, ‘Don’t worry Nicole. You don’t have to watch. We’re going to win.’ It didn’t matter who we were playing. I knew how we’d respond.”
Wolf Pack women grab first MW win
The Nevada women’s basketball team picked up its first MW win Wednesday with its 52-49 victory over SJSU.
Both teams struggled offensively but Nevada came up with the big stops late. Jade Redmon led all scorers with a season-high 18 points on 6-of-10 shooting. The Wolf Pack out-rebounded the Spartans, 45-29, and had 21 offensive boards that led to 17 second-chance points. Nevada went ahead at the 5:01 mark on a Terae Briggs’ three-point play and never trailed thereafter. SJSU missed a potentially game-tying 3-pointer with 10 seconds remaining to seal the win for the Wolf Pack.
Nevada improved to 5-9 overall and 1-2 in the MW; SJSU fell to 1-12 and 0-2.
Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @MurrayNSN.