Deonte Burton and the Nevada Wolf Pack said good-bye to Lawlor Events Center in style Saturday night.
“He’s a winner,” Wolf Pack coach David Carter said of Burton. “He didn’t want to lose on Senior Night.”
Burton scored 24 points and handed out 11 assists in his final regular season game at Lawlor Events Center as the Wolf Pack stormed past the UNLV Rebels, 76-72, in front of a rowdy crowd of 10,317.
“It’s a coincidence I scored 24 points,” said Burton, who has worn No. 24 the past four years. “But it’s pretty cool. I wear number 24 and I scored 24 points in my last home game. That’s pretty cool.”
The victory gave the Wolf Pack its first two-game season sweep over UNLV since the 1994-95 season. More importantly, it gave the Wolf Pack (15-16, 10-8) third place in the Mountain West and a first-round bye in the conference tournament starting Wednesday in Las Vegas. The Rebels ended up in fourth place at 19-12, 10-8.
“We really wanted to send our seniors out with a win,” junior guard Michael Perez said of seniors Burton, Jerry Evans and Ali Fall. “This is a storybook ending for them.”
It didn’t start out that way.
The Rebels, playing without starters Roscoe Smith (concussion) and Bryce Dejean-Jones (disciplinary reasons), led 41-35 at halftime and 54-37 with 16:13 to go. UNLV scored 13 of the first 15 points in the second half, forcing the Pack to call a much-needed timeout.
“I just told the guys to turn up the energy, turn up the defense and everybody responded,” said Burton, who had eight points at halftime.
“Coach got in our ear,” Pack forward Cole Huff said. “He told us we weren’t playing with any heart. We didn’t want to get embarrassed on our own floor.”
Carter kept his message simple during the timeout.
“I told them that it was a long game and that UNLV wasn’t going to keep making shots like they were,” Carter said. “I told them that our shots were going to fall and to just trust their defense.”
The Wolf Pack, which missed six of its first seven shots in the second half, responded by immediately going on a game-changing 11-0 run. Huff hit a 10-foot jumper and a 3-pointer and Burton had a lay-up and a 3-pointer to key the run.
“I thought that was the key part of the game,” Carter said. “Coming out of the timeout we hit a couple threes and got a turnover and that changed the momentum.”
Huff and Burton also drained 3-pointers 39 seconds apart as the Pack cut the Rebels’ lead to just 57-54 with 11:22 to go. Huff, who scored 22 points, then added another short jumper to pull the Pack to within 57-56 as the Pack extended its run to 19-3 after the pivotal timeout.
Daquan Cook hit a 3-pointer to give the Rebels a 60-56 lead but the Wolf Pack responded with a Burton jumper in the lane, a Marqueze Coleman lay-up and a 3-point play by Perez to take a 63-60 lead with 7:25 to go.
Perez’s lay-up and free throw came after a steal near mid-court by Coleman. Coleman, while laying on the floor, shoveled the ball ahead to Burton, who found a streaking Perez down the right side for the lay-up.
“That play by Marqueze really boosted our confidence,” Burton said. “It gave us energy and it gave us life. We call those ‘50-50’ balls and those are balls we have to have and he (Coleman) got it.”
Burton then brought the crowd to its feet with a thunderous dunk from the left baseline for a 65-62 Pack lead with six minutes to go.
“Nobody was there,” Burton smiled. “Their big wasn’t there. When I saw that I just took off.”
The Rebels, though, didn’t go away easily. Jelan Kendrick’s 3-pointer tied the game at 67-67 and Deville Smith’s 3-pointer gave UNLV a 70-67 lead with 4:14 to go.
The Rebels would score just two more points.
Perez, who had 11 points, hit a 3-pointer from the left corner to tie the game at 70-70 with 3:53 to go and Burton drove the left side of the lane around UNLV guard Kevin Olekaibe for a lay-up and a 72-70 Wolf Pack lead with 3:07 left.
Khem Birch’s lay-up tied the game one last time for UNLV at 72-72 with 1:19 left. Birch, who was fouled by Fall, failed to give the Rebels the lead by missing his free throw. Birch also was the victim of a little bad luck 25 seconds later. The 6-foot-9 forward pulled down a rebound off a missed 3-pointer by Perez with 54 seconds left, but his momentum carried him to the floor and out of bounds, giving the ball back to the Pack.
Huff drained a 10-foot jumper 21 seconds later for a 74-72 Pack lead.
Another bit of unfortunate luck hurt the Rebels with nine seconds to go. UNLV’s Kendrick missed a 3-pointer with 14 seconds to go and Christian Wood missed an 8-foot jumper with 11 seconds left. The Pack’s Ronnie Stevens and UNLV’s Deville Smith then fell to the floor after Wood’s miss with the ball in their arms for a jump ball.
The possession arrow gave the ball to the Pack. The Rebels then had to foul and Coleman calmly sank two free throws for a 76-72 lead with seven seconds to go, sewing up the victory.
Everything Carter told his team during the crucial timeout with 16 minutes to go came true. UNLV stopped making shots and the Wolf Pack started making shots. UNLV, which made five of their first six shots in the second half, was just 6-of-19 (32 percent) after Carter’s timeouts. The Wolf Pack made 15-of-24 shots (63 per cent) after the timeout.
The Pack also made 10-of-11 free throws for the game.
“Let me take a picture of that,” smiled Carter as he stared at the stat sheet after the game.
“It feels amazing to go out there and sweep our rivals,” Perez said. “We’re on a roll now. Down 17, we could have quit but we didn’t.”
“This team doesn’t give up,” Burton said.
Carter credited the biggest crowd of the season for the victory. The student section emptied at the final buzzer and stormed the floor.
“I made a lot of new friends,“ smiled Burton.
“If we didn’t have that many people in the stands I don’t think we would have pulled this one out,” said Carter, whose Wolf Pack finished just 7-8 at home this year.
“The crowd pushed us,” Perez said.
“The crowd was unbelievable,” Burton said. “I couldn’t even hear my own voice on the floor.”