The Nevada Wolf Pack learned a lesson about what it takes to be a championship team Wednesday night at Lawlor Events Center.
“They just made the tough plays,” Wolf Pack senior guard Malik Story said after the 75-62 loss to the No. 12 New Mexico Lobos.
The Wolf Pack has now lost six games in a row, nine of its last 10 and 13 of its last 15 to fall to 12-17 overall and 3-12 in the Mountain West with one game remaining in the regular season. The Lobos improved to 26-4, 13-2.
“That’s a veteran team,” Pack coach David Carter said of the Lobos. “That a championship team.”
The Lobos, which have already clinched the Mountain West’s regular season championship, put the game away with a 17-0 run late in the second half. The Wolf Pack took a 56-55 lead with 8:10 to play on a free throw by Story and then didn’t score for the next five minutes as the Lobos went ahead 72-56.
“We obviously showed we could play with them,” said Story, who had six 3-pointers and scored 25 points. “But they just executed their offense.”
Snell scored seven points in the Lobos’ 17-0 run. Cameron Bairstow and Alex Kirk each scored five points during the run.
"I was concerned just on what our effort, what our demeanor, what our concentration and focus would be," Lobos coach Steve Alford said. "And that's what I told them in the locker room, how pleased and how proud of them I was. They came out focused. They concentrated all night. We gave great effort all night.
"We did what we've done all year, we just eventually wore a team down in the last eight minutes you could tell. We were a lot stronger in the last 8 minutes. We're going to go the entire season with no bad losses. This is a very good basketball team, but in the last eight minutes we played very good basketball."
Alford said he wasn't surprised his Lobos waited until the final minutes to pull away.
"It's just our identity," he said. "I didn't think to start the second half the first 10 minutes was what we're capable of playing defense. The last 10 minutes, it's almost like the team said, 'That's enough,' and they cranked up the defense. We made it really hard on them the last 10 minutes of the game. We didn't turn the ball over, our guards did a good job not turning the ball over. Our shot selection was the last 10 minutes was terrific and it was the best we defended all night."
Carter said the Lobos attacked the Pack in the paint.
“They went inside and we let them get the ball too deep,” Carter said. “When you get the ball right under the basket and can go straight up, you can’t guard that.”
The 6-9 Bairstow and the 7-foot Kirk dominated the Pack inside, combining for 26 points and 20 rebounds. Kirk had 11 points and 10 boards while Bairstow had 15 and 10.
“They didn’t go inside in the first half and I was surprised they didn’t,” Carter said. “I was waiting for that to happen. They went to our weakness, which is inside.”
The Wolf Pack, though, played with a renewed energy. The Pack honored seniors Keith Fuetsch and Story before the game and stayed right with the Lobos for the first 32 minutes.
The Wolf Pack went on 13-3 run early in the second half to take a 50-47 lead on a 3-pointer by Story with 12:20 to play. Two lay-ups by Deonte Burton jumpstarted the run as the Pack controlled the tempo for nearly five minutes. Story and Marqueze Coleman also had a pair of free throws during the run and Devonte Elliott had a lay-up to tie the game at 47-47.
“We got out in transition and got some easy baskets,” said Burton, who otherwise struggled from the floor with 3-of-10 shooting for eight points.
“We just wanted to stay solid on defense, get some stops and get some easy baskets,” Carter said. “We knew we couldn’t make a lot of mistakes against this team.”
The Pack missed all six of its shots during the Lobos’ game-deciding 17-0 run.
“They played good defense, got their hands on the ball, got some strips when we went to the hole,” Burton said.
Story, the Wolf Pack’s all-time leading 3-point shooter (now with 247), tried to keep his emotions in check during his final game at Lawlor Events Center.
“I tried not to think about it,” he said.
The 6-foot-5 guard played well, hitting 6-of-11 from 3-point range and 7-of-15 overall. He scored the Pack’s first points of the night on a 3-pointer just 30 seconds into the game. Fuetsch, the other senior, scored the Pack’s final points of the game on a lay-up with 34 seconds left, bringing the loudest cheer of the night from the crowd of 6,401.
“We fought hard tonight,” Story said.
Story hit a 3-pointer to cut New Mexico’s lead to 19-17 mid-way through the first half and also gave the Pack a 27-26 lead with another 3-pointer with 3:21 left in the half.
“It was a little emotional for the guys,” said Carter, referring to the Senior Night festivities before the game. “They wanted to play well and I think they handled it well.”
Story ended up scoring 49 points (24 against UNLV on Saturday) in his final two games at Lawlor Events Center.
“I appreciate the guys going out there and putting a lot into this game,” Story said. “It means a lot to me. I am also very thankful for the way the fans supported me and supported this team.”
The Wolf Pack finished 10-7 at Lawlor Events Center this season, losing six of eight Mountain West home games.
“It’s rebounding,” said Carter. “You can’t make a run if you can’t get stops.”
The Lobos out-rebounded the Pack 33-28. In an identical 75-62 loss to the Lobos in Albuquerque on Feb. 2, the Pack held the Lobos to a season-low two offensive rebounds and won the battle on the boards 33-29. New Mexico had 10 offensive rebounds on Wednesday, seven combined by Kirk and Bairstow.
“They are on top of the league for a reason,” Story said.