After missing Nevada's first 27 games following preseason knee surgery, Wolf Pack guard Hunter McIntosh made his season debut Tuesday in Nevada's 66-51 win over San Jose State.
A transfer from Elon, McIntosh checked in at the 11-minute, 20-second mark of the first half and logged about 5 minutes. The same formula was used in the second half with McIntosh checking in at the 11-minute mark before playing another 5 minutes. He also subbed in for the game's final 1:26. The expectation entering the game was McIntosh would play 10-12 minutes, and Nevada hit that mark.
"It's good to get Hunter in there," Nevada coach Steve Alford said. "We got him 11 minutes. I guess I'm within my medical timeframe there. But it's just great having another experienced guard out there."
McIntosh played 11 minutes, 12 seconds. He was 0-of-2 from the field, missing an 18-footer in the first half and air-balling a 3-pointer in the second half as he knocks the rust off after missing the first 3.5 months of the season. He added two assists and had a plus-minus of plus-six. Alford was pleased with his performance given his lengthy absence.
"To get Hunter back, even in a limited basis at least here for a little bit, is huge because he's a very experienced, high-basketball guy," Alford said. "He can really shoot it. Tonight, his first game back after being out four months, he gets two assists, doesn't turn the ball over and really guarded. And he knows everything. Offensively and defensively, he's got everything down, so it just helps us have that kind of depth."
McIntosh was one of five Wolf Pack players to get minutes off the bench after Nevada had gone with an eight-man rotation in recent games. After not playing in two of Nevada's last three games, backup guard Trey Pettigrew got 4 minutes against SJSU and scored four points on 2-of-3 shooting, both layups off the dribble to end the first and second halves.
McIntosh was one of Nevada's big offseason additions, a three-year college starter at Elon who was expected to start at point guard for the Wolf Pack. An undisclosed knee surgery in October was thought to be a season ender at the time, but McIntosh has successfully rehabbed back to action for the final four regular-season games and any postseason play.
"That's OG out there," freshman Darrion Williams said. "I call him OG. It felt good for him to get back. I know he's been itching for it since he kind of got most of the season taken away from him, but he's excited to get back out there. He's always been a vocal presence for us off the court even when he's hurt. If coaches sends a message, he'll say something and repeat what he says to keep us motivated and keep us ready to go."
The Wolf Pack's win over SJSU clinched Nevada a first-round bye and top-four seed at the upcoming Mountain West Tournament.
Nevada is 11-4 in league play behind SDSU (13-2) and Boise State (11-3) and ahead of Utah State (11-5). Each of those teams has secured a first-round bye with New Mexico (7-7), SJSU (7-8), Fresno State (6-10) and UNLV (5-10) each still mathematically alive for the fifth and final bye. Ideally, Nevada would like to earn a top-three seed at the conference tournament, which would give it a lesser opponent in the quarterfinals.
With the MW having five teams in the mix for an NCAA Tournament at-large spot, the No. 4 and 5 seeds at the conference tournament (at this point Utah State and New Mexico) would face off in the quarterfinals. The No. 3 seed would draw a lower-rated foe like SJSU, Fresno State, UNLV or Air Force (the Wolf Pack is 6-1 against those opponents).
Nevada has three regular-season games remaining, including its next two on the road. Nevada plays at Fresno State on Friday before heading to Wyoming next Monday. The Wolf Pack is 14-0 at home but has lost four of its last five road games, the lone victory coming on a buzzer-beater at New Mexico. The games at Fresno State and Wyoming, which are a combined 18-36, offer a chance for Nevada to get back above .500 in road games where the team is 5-6 overall and 3-4 in the MW.
"Obviously, we have a shorter break than normal, but we have to take care of our bodies," Williams said. "We've taken care of home, but we have to take care of business on the road if we want to do what we want to do later on, which is get to March Madness, get to the tournament and make some noise there."