David Carter had all the confidence in the world in Deonte Burton.
“I just told him, ‘You got to make a play,” Carter said. “At that time in the game it’s just about making plays. And he just made a basketball play.”
Burton drove the left side of the lane and threw the ball up off the glass for a basket to give the Wolf Pack a 59-58 lead with 32 seconds to play. The basket turned out to be the game-winning play as the Wolf Pack held off the Wyoming Cowboys 61-58 Saturday afternoon in front of a crowd of 5,740 at Lawlor Events Center.
“I just saw an opening in the middle of their zone and just took it to the hole,” said Burton, who scored a game-high 16 points.
Carter was pleased that Burton attacked the basket. The senior point guard, after all, had missed 13 of his last 14 3-pointers over the last three games and 36-of-45 over the last seven games.
“I wanted to get to the basket,” Carter said. “I wanted to be aggressive in that situation and not settle for threes.”
The victory gave the Wolf Pack, 7-8 overall and 2-0 in the Mountain West, its first two-game winning streak since the middle of November.
“It was a great win,” Pack forward A.J. West said. “We’re starting to come together and get our chemistry up and now we’re looking forward to keep going.”
West, who had 12 points and 12 rebounds, made two critical defensive plays on Wyoming forward Larry Nance Jr. in the final 2:04. West forced Nance into a pair of 10-foot jumpers and both times Nance threw up air balls. The second miss came with just four seconds to play and the Pack leading just 59-58.
“I knew that’s where the ball was going,” West said. “It’s a great feeling to be able to stop him twice in the last two minutes of the game.”
Nance, who entered the game as Wyoming’s leading scorer at 16.3 points a game, finished with 14 points. The 6-foot-8 junior, though, missed 10 of his 15 shots from the field. He also missed a wide-open lay-up with just under four minutes to play on his way to missing his last six shots.
“I just looked at him like he was just another player,” West said. “I didn’t look at him like he was anything special. I didn’t even know who he is.”
Carter praised West’s defense on Nance. Nance had two dunks in the game’s first seven minutes but struggled to find his shot the rest of the game.
“We just didn’t want to give him any drives to the basket,” Carter said. “Their team feeds off his energy and we just wanted to make it difficult for him.”
Nance was just 2-of-8 from the floor in the second half. He also made a questionable pass to teammate Jerron Granberry with 49 seconds to go and the Cowboys up 58-57. The turnover, though, was charged to Granberry, who seemed to be surprised by Nance’s pass.
“I just knew we needed some defensive stops to win this game,” West said. “I knew I had to do it for my team.”
“We were giving up a lot of easy baskets earlier in the year,” Carter said. “Since (West) started playing, we’re not giving up so many easy baskets. He gives us a defensive presence.”
The Wolf Pack took a 30-26 halftime lead thanks to a 3-pointer by Michael Perez just 29 seconds before the intermission. The Wolf Pack outscored the Cowboys 10-4 over the final 5:51 of the half, holding Wyoming without a field goal. A 7-0 Pack run that started with Burton’s first successful 3-pointer in three games gave the Pack a 27-22 lead.
The lead, though, changed hands eight times in the second half.
Wyoming (9-5, 0-1) opened up a 41-36 lead on a 3-pointer by Riley Grabau with 13:53 to go. The Pack, though, went on another 10-4 run, thanks to a 3-pointer by Jerry Evans and a pair of acrobatic lay-ups by Burton and Perez to take a 46-45 lead with 8:13 left.
Cole Huff drained a pair of 3-pointers to give the Pack leads of 51-50 and 54-53. Wyoming, though, answered with 3-pointers by Grabau and Granberry to take a 56-54 lead with three minutes to go.
The Pack, trailing 56-54, then got a break as Burton missed a 3-pointer with 2:39 left. The rebound, though, went out of bounds off a Wyoming player, giving the Pack the ball back. The Wolf Pack then tied the game 18 seconds later at 56-56 as West put back a missed 3-pointer by Huff for a lay-up.
“I still have a ways to go to get to my peak,” said West, who has seen the Wolf Pack go 3-1 since he became eligible on Dec. 22.
Carter, though, likes what he has seen so far from West. The 6-9 junior college transfer, has averaged 13.5 points and 10.5 rebounds over his last two games (Mountain West wins over San Jose State and Wyoming).
“He’s still learning,” Carter said. “His best is yet to come.”
Grabau fed teammate Josh Adams for a lay-up with 1:32 to go as Wyoming took a 58-56 lead. Grabau, who finished with 14 points, then fouled out just six seconds later. The Pack proceeded to outscore the Cowboys 5-0 over the final 1:26 with Grabau on the bench to steal the victory.
It was the Wolf Pack’s first victory over Wyoming since the 1937-38 season. Wyoming, which still leads the series with the Pack, 10-2, had won nine in a row against Nevada with three of the victories coming last year.
“The difference is that we’re coming along defensively,” said Burton, who is now tied with Nick Fazekas for the Wolf Pack’s school record for career free throws made at 546. “We’re getting stops at the end of the game when we need it.”
The Pack is now just one victory away from equaling its Mountain West victory total of last year when it went 3-13 in league play.
“I think we’re just getting better,“ said Carter, who added that point guard Marqueze Coleman, who has missed the last five games with an eye injury, will return on Wednesday when the Pack plays at UNLV. “We’re still a work in progress. We haven’t gotten to the point where I think we can be.”