The Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball team made a verbal commitment to each other on Saturday afternoon.
“Everybody communicated,” senior guard Malik Story said after a 75-59 victory over the Boise State Broncos in front of a crowd of 6,821 at Lawlor Events Center. “The key was talking to each other. Today we just started yelling at each other, telling each other what to do.”
The victory improved the struggling Pack, which had lost four of its last five games, to 11-8 overall and 2-3 in the Mountain West. Boise State fell to 14-5, 2-3.
“We communicated on defense, we rotated , we yelled at each other,” said point guard Deonte Burton, who led the Pack with 17 points.”
“Talking was huge for us,” said center Devonte Elliott, who added 11 points in 16 minutes off the bench.
Most of the Pack talking points were on the defensive end. San Diego State came to Lawlor on Wednesday night and shot 54 percent from the floor in handing the Pack a 78-57 loss.
Boise, which was missing Jeff Elorriaga, its third-leading scorer (11.4 points a game) and best 3-point shooter, shot just 36 percent from the floor and was just 4-of-21 from 3-point range.
“Without (Elorriaga) they are totally different,” Pack coach David Carter said. “He’s another shooter and without him out there we were able to pack in a little bit on defense. And they (Boise) couldn’t spread out as much on offense.”
The Pack also played with a heightened sense of urgency with tough road games ahead at UNLV on Tuesday and at New Mexico next Saturday. The Pack had also lost its last two home games for its first losing streak at home since the end of the 2010-11 season.
“The sense of urgency was big for us,” said Burton, who also had four rebounds and four assists. “We knew we had to defend our home. We can’t afford anymore losses at home. The sense of urgency we had was definitely important and we all had it.”
The sense of urgency was apparent right from the start against Boise as the Pack took a 7-0 lead four minutes into the game and led 15-9 with 12:31 to go in the first half. The quick lead was built on 3-pointers by Burton, Story and Jordan Burris. It also helped the Pack that Boise missed its first six shots and turned the ball over four times in the first 3:20.
“We played with great energy,” Carter said. “And we defended them well and wore them down.”
The Pack led the Broncos for the first 18:56 of the first half and the final 14:36 of the second half. It was the second half, Carter said, that was the difference in the victory. The Wolf Pack, which trailed Boise 28-27 at the half, had been outscored 129-79 combined in its three Mountain West losses. They outscored the Broncos 48-31 in the final 20 minutes.
“You’ve got to play two halves,” Carter said. “In the second half it was all about who wanted to take control of the game. Our last two home games the other team we let the other team take control. This time we took control.”
“Today we played all 40 minutes,” Story said.
The Pack started to take control in the second half when Story drained three free throws for a 43-41 lead with 14:36 to go. The shooting guard then came right back 25 seconds later with a 3-pointer for a 46-41 lead. The Pack’s 10-0 run was then capped off by a lay-up by Elliott and another jumper by Story for a 50-41 lead with 12:44 to play.
Boise, which has now lost three of its last four games after a 13-2 start, did pull within five (61-56 with 6:16 to play) on a 3-pointer by Igor Hadziomerovic. But another huge Pack run, this time 12-0, put the game away over the next five minutes.
Elliott hit a jumper for a 63-56 lead and Story and Burton had lay-ups for a 67-56 lead as the Pack started to attack the basket at will. A free throw by Marqueze Coleman completed the run as the Pack took a game-deciding 73-56 lead with 1:18 to go.
“All of our second halves have been just dead,” Story said. “We wanted to change that.”
The Wolf Pack also finally received some important offensive contributions from someone other than Burton and Story. In addition to Evans’ dozen points and 11 from Elliott, the Pack also got nine from Coleman (his most since an 11-point performance against Cal State San Marcos on Dec. 21) and eight from Burris (his most since he scored 11 against Oregon on Dec. 31).
“We shared the sugar,” smiled Burton. “That’s what we like to call it. When we share the sugar everybody is happy.”
“I don’t know where that came from,” said Carter with a smile, referring to Burton’s share the sugar philosophy.
Carter credited the Pack’s defense for the 10-0 and 12-0 runs. Boise ended up missing 17 of its last 22 shots over the final 15 minutes of the game.
“We got a lot of stops,” Carter said. “And when you get stops on defense you are able to run your break more often on offense and we were able to get a lot of easy baskets.”