The Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball team doesn’t plan on wasting any time Saturday afternoon.
“We want to get off to a faster start,” junior point guard Marqueze Coleman said of the Wolf Pack’s first regular season game against the Cal Poly Mustangs in a 3 p.m. matinee at Lawlor Events Center. “We can’t afford a slow start like we had in the exhibition game. That will hurt us against good teams. We can’t afford that.”
The Wolf Pack fell behind 36-29 at halftime against Cal State San Marcos last Saturday night in an exhibition game at Lawlor Events Center before pulling out a 72-62 victory. Coleman scored 19 of his game-high 28 points down the stretch to avoid the loss.
“The good thing is that when we were losing we didn’t panic,” Coleman said. “We kept a calm sense of urgency.”
The Wolf Pack dialed up their offense and defense in the second half against San Marcos, winning the second 20 minutes 43-26 and forcing San Marcos to miss 10 of its 11 3-point attempts.
“It was just first-half jitters,” Pack coach David Carter said. “That was the first time those guys played together in front of a crowd. In the second half we were more aggressive and things picked up. We have to build off that second half in our next game.”
In addition to Coleman’s standout performance the Wolf Pack also got 12 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks from A.J. West, 13 points from D.J. Fenner and five rebounds and five assists from Michael Perez.
“That game was like a learning process for everybody,” West said. “That was the first time we all played with each other. We’ll be better the next game after having that experience.”
The Wolf Pack had to score six points in the final 17 seconds to beat Cal Poly 60-58 last season at San Luis Obispo, Calif. Perez hit a 3-pointer with 17 seconds left and senior point guard Deonte Burton completed a 3-point play with six seconds left to pull out the win. The Pack had trailed 44-33 with 15 minutes to play.
“It was a great game,” Perez said, smiling. “But I think we would have liked to win in a little less cardiac fashion.”
The victory was one of just 15 last season for the Pack (15-17). Cal Poly finished just 14-20 last year but went to the NCAA Tournament after winning the Big West Conference tournament.
“This game will be a tougher assignment that the exhibition game,” West said. “I will have to bring my A game.”
“We know it’s going to be a real good game,” said Coleman, who had seven points against Cal Poly a year ago. “It went right down to the wire last year.”
Burton, as he did so often in his four-year career, bailed out the Pack last year in San Luis Obispo, scoring 22 points.
“Our guys competed well in a hostile environment,” Carter said. “We did the little things to pull out the victory.”
The Wolf Pack, which will also host Division II school Adams State of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference on Monday night (7 p.m.) at Lawlor Events Center, saw five new players make their debuts against San Marcos. Kaileb Rodriguez, Tyron Criswell, Elijah Foster, Robyn Missa and Eric Cooper combined to play 77 minutes and score 14 points with 16 rebounds.
The 6-foot-9 Rodriguez, the lone starter among the newcomers, had six points and four boards in 26 minutes. Criswell, a 6-3 junior, had five points and three rebounds in 18 minutes while the 6-9 Missa had five rebounds in 15 minutes.
“Right now I am trying to keep it simple for the freshmen,” said Carter of Foster, Missa and Cooper. “It is a long season and if they just get better game to game and week to week, they will really help the team. I’m not throwing a lot at them right now.”
“It was good for all the new guys to play under the lights in front of our fans,” Perez said. “And it was good for the veterans to see what we need and how we all fit together and what we have to iron out.”
One thing the Wolf Pack would like to iron out is the start of the game.
“In the exhibition game we kind of got hit in the mouth at the start and it took something out of us,” Perez said. “We needed Marqueze to get hot and win the game for us. In this game (against Cal Poly) we need to throw the first punch.”
The Wolf Pack lost its season opener last year 80-78 at Lawlor Events Center to the Pacific Tigers.
“The first game is very important,” Perez said. “We want to get off to a fast start this year and win more preseason games.”
“My expectations are high for this team.” West said. “A lot of people don’t know our team because we all haven‘t played together yet. But we have a good group of guys. I think we can exceed the expectations. Yes, the expectations other people have for us are low but I really feel we can finish in the top half (of the Mountain West Conference).”