INDIANAPOLIS (AP)—Nevada still has its NCAA tournament magic working.
The Wolf Pack made an improbable comeback in the final 2 minutes Thursday night, scoring the last eight points of the game to beat eighth-seeded Texas 61-57 for their second straight first-round victory.
“This tournament can break your heart,” first-year coach Mark Fox said. “At the end, everybody’s going to be crying but one team.”
The Wolf Pack (25-6) fed off last year’s surprising run that sent them into the round of 16. They played with confidence, matching Texas shove for shove, as they evened their NCAA tournament record at 3-3 and tied last season’s victory total.
But reaching the regional semifinals a second straight time will take the biggest upset in school history. They will face top-seeded Illinois, a 67-55 winner over Fairleigh Dickinson, in the second round Saturday.
What Nevada proved against Texas, is that it can still do some postseason damage.
Kevinn Pinkney scored 15 points and the Wolf Pack survived a dreadful night by Western Athletic Conference player of the year Nick Fazekas. Together, the two account for more than 41 percent of the Wolf Pack’s points during the season.
On Thursday, with Pinkney in foul trouble and Fazekas missing most of his shots, they needed help—and they got it. Mo Charlo came off the bench to score 12 points and Ramon Sessions added 11. Fazekas finished with 10 points and 13 rebounds while shooting 3-of-14 against Texas’ aggressive zone.
“We’ve played uglier than this,” Fazekas said. “To not play our best ball and still come out with a win, it’s a pretty good feeling.”
It could have been a very different result, though.
Texas center Jason Klotz and backup guard Kenny Taylor nearly rallied the Longhorns by themselves in the second half. They combined for 26 of 31 points in the last 20 minutes and had Texas in position to win with a 57-53 lead and 2:24 to go.
But Texas (20-11), one of five teams that had been to the round of 16 each of the last three years, couldn’t close it out against the scrappy bunch from Reno.
Klotz finished with a career-high 20 points, while Taylor added 12, and Brad Buckman had 14 points and 11 rebounds. Daniel Gibson, the Big 12 freshman of the year, scored just eight points.
“It’s tough going out in the first round, I’ve never experienced that before,” said Buckman, a junior. “It hurts everybody and I don’t like that feeling at all.”
Defensively, both teams played well. Nevada shot just 37.1 percent, Texas 35.3 percent.
Offensively, nobody struggled more than Fazekas, who wore a mask to protect his broken nose. He was just was just 1-of-6 from the field in the first half, missed the rim by several feet on one shot and had another bounce off the shot clock.
That was by design.
“We wanted them to shoot perimeter shots,” Longhorns coach Rick Barnes said. “We were basically trying to shrink the court on them.”
The strategy worked for 38 minutes.
And when Klotz scored eight points in an 11-2 run that gave Texas a 55-51 lead with 4:14 left, it appeared Texas would hang on.
Instead, Charlo completed a three-point play to pull Nevada to 57-56 with 1:28 left and Pinkney made a 5-footer to give the Wolf Pack the lead with 44.3 seconds left.
“It wasn’t a specific play,” Pinkney said. “I was just open and he found me.”
Gibson missed a 3-pointer on Texas’ next possession and then with a chance to tie, Klotz missed a short jumper and Buckman a tip-in.
Sessions then made two free throws to seal the improbable comeback.
“We did the little things to win the game,” Pinkney said. “I didn’t look at the scoreboard much, but when you hold somebody under 60 points, you have a great chance to win.”