RENO, Nev. (AP)—Nevada’s underclassmen helped the seniors close out their home careers on a high note.
Coach Mark Fox made a special appeal to his underclassmen for what he knew would be an emotional night for Nick Fazekas and the 10th-ranked Wolf Pack’s other seniors in their last home game.
Junior Marcelus Kemp came through by scoring 21 of his 32 points in the second half, including four consecutive free throws after a technical foul at a key point midway through the second half, to lead Nevada to a 69-65 victory over New Mexico State on Saturday night.
Fazekas added 22 points and nine rebounds, and junior Ramon Sessions grabbed 10 rebounds for the Wolf Pack, who claimed their fourth straight regular-season title in the Western Athletic Conference with four consecutive seasons of 25 or more victories.
“Extremely emotional night,” Fox said after his team cut down the nets in front of many of the 11,472 screaming fans in white T-shirts who attended the game.
“I met with our underclassmen yesterday, Marcelus specifically, and I said, ‘You guys are going to have to really play well because we’re going to be so emotional we may not look very pretty,”’ Fox said.
Kemp was 9-for-17 from the field and 12-for-13 on free throws, including four straight after a foul and technical foul that gave Nevada a 50-47 lead midway through the second half that it didn’t relinquish.
Nevada (27-3, 14-2) is 60-6 at home since the start of the 2003-04 season.
“This has been a special group, seniors yes, but the entire team because they value the principles we built this program on,” said Fox, in his third year as Nevada’s head coach.
“They have not won every game, but they’ve won a heck of a lot and they’ve done enough to just keep making you think they can do more,” he said.
Each fan at Saturday night’s sell out received a free white Wolf Pack T-shirt, part of a promotion billed as a “white out” after a series of winter storms plastered the Sierra Nevada.
“The crowd was great,” said Kyle Shiloh, a senior guard who finished with seven points and five rebounds. “I don’t think I’ve ever played in an environment like that.”
Tyrone Nelson scored 15 points, Elijah Ingram 13 and Ted Knauber 12 for New Mexico State (22-8, 11-5 WAC), which trailed 21-15 early but closed the first half with an 11-4 run to take a 31-28 lead at the break.
Fazekas said defense and rebounding down the stretch were key.
“It was back and forth, back and forth and then finally for us to get two or three stops, it can separate any team,” he said.
It marked the 66th time in his career that Fazekas has scored 20 or more points in a game, the most among active players in the NCAA. He started the night averaging 20.9 points on the season and ranked fourth in the nation with 11.4 rebounds per game. He and Texas’ Kevin Durant (24.9 points, 11.5 rebounds) are the only two players in country averaging at least 20 points and 10 rebounds.
The Aggies outshot the Wolf Pack 40 percent to 39 percent and outrebounded them 41-39, but were only 9-for-17 from the foul line to Nevada’s 29-of-35.
New Mexico State coach Reggie Theus said he was “very proud” of the way his team played.
“In this building, with this kind of atmosphere against a team that is nationally ranked … it was a one- or two-point game until late,” he said.
“We can analyze this and be real smart about everything, but when it comes down to it, they got the calls, they made the plays and we missed ours,” Theus said. “Down the stretch of the game, we stopped them five times in a row. But we didn’t score on our end. We didn’t make plays.
“When you shoot 17 free throws, they shoot 35, it’s hard to win that game on the road in a building like this.”
The Aggies scored 17 points off 15 Nevada turnovers in the first half, but the Wolf Pack turned the ball over only three times the second half.
“We were much better offenisvely in the second half. We just calmed down,” Fox said. “The halftime speech was just simply, ‘Will you please relax and just calm down.”’
Nelson scored six points in a row, including a 19-footer to put the Aggies ahead 47-46 with 10:39 left in the game. But on the next possession, Shaun Davis fouled Kemp, was called for a technical when he complained and Kemp made all four free throws for the three-point lead with 10:17 left in the game.
Kemp then made a 3-pointer and Fazekas a pair of free throws for a 54-49 lead. Ingram answered with a 3 to pull New Mexico State to 54-52, and after Shiloh’s basket off a behind-the-back dribble on a break, Nelson converted a 3-point play to get to 56-55 at 7:12.
Kemp was fouled on a 3-point attempt and made all three free throws to put Nevada ahead 59-55 with 6:56 left.
Ingram went the length of the floor for a layup to make it 64-61 at 1:20. Knauber made a basket and was fouled, but couldn’t convert the free throw to leave it 65-63 with 28 seconds. Kemp and Fazekas each made a pair of free throws down the stretch to seal the win.