The Nevada men’s basketball advanced to the College Basketball Invitational finals with a 86-72 win over Vermont on Wednesday at Lawlor Events Center.
“It’s exciting to be in this opportunity right now,” said freshman Cameron Oliver. “We’re focused, but we’re ready to have some fun.”
The Wolf Pack will take on Morehead State in a best-of-three series next week. Game one of the finals will be Monday in Morehead, Ky. Game two will be Wednesday (March 30) at Lawlor Events Center. Game three of the series, if necessary will be Friday (April 1), also at Lawlor.
The CBI has set a tip-off time of 5:30 p.m. (PT) for game one and 6 p.m. (PT for the remaining games. The series will be televised on ESPNU.
“We’ve got to go there and try to win a road game,” first-year coach Eric Musselman said.
Oliver led four Nevada players in double figures with 23 points and grabbed 11 rebounds for his 10th double-double of the season. Senior Marqueze Coleman saw 29 minutes of playing time and looked like his old self, erupting for 20 points off the bench. Junior D.J. Fenner continued his strong postseason run with 20 points while senior Tyron Criswell added 11.
Nevada has won three straight games in the CBI and the three postseason victories are a school record.
In what’s become a formula for success this season, Nevada relied on its defense – specifically in the second half – to spur its offense. The routine worked perfectly on Wednesday as Nevada outpaced the Catamounts 49-37 in the final 20 minutes to race to the win.
The Pack shot 53 percent from the floor overall and 59 percent in second half while holding Vermont to 39 percent for the game and just 35 percent in the second half.
“Second half, we just picked it up. Our defense led our offense,” Fenner said.
Ernie Duncan and Trae Bell-Haynes led the Catamounts with 19 points each.
Oliver led the charge in the second half. He had just five first-half points but buried a pair of three-pointers and jammed home a couple of his highlight-reel dunks to bring the crowd of 6,133 to their feet. Oliver also grabbed 10 of his rebounds in the final 20 minutes.
“It gave me the opportunity to get my other teammates their opportunities,” said Oliver, who faced double teams throughout the first half. “It feels good that everybody can score.”
Down the stretch, the Wolf Pack broke the game wide open, leading by 18 points at one point and allowing Musselman to empty his bench.
The Wolf Pack controlled the tempo throughout, attacking the basket and drawing fouls. Nevada went to the line 33 times (compared to 17 for Vermont) as Fenner alone went 11-of-14 from the stripe.
Nevada opened the game strong, led by an Oliver three-pointer to open the scoring, and jumped out to an 11-3 lead four minutes in. The Catamounts clawed back in it as the half wore on, tying the score four times but never claiming a lead.
For the first time since injuring his ankle Feb. 24, Coleman appeared to be at full strength, scoring 13 points – all in a row at one point for the Pack – as the Pack went in to the break with a 37-15 advantage.
“Marqueze’s lift, from an offensive standpoint, we really needed,” Musselman said. “He was feeling it and he did a great job.”
Said Oliver: “Vintage Marqueze is back.”
Tickets for the CBI finals will go on sale on Thursday at 9 a.m. at NevadaWolfPack.com or in person at Lawlor Events Center. Season-ticketholders should have received email notice of the process to retain their same seats for the finals series. For more information, season ticketholders can visit the ticket office at Lawlor. There are no phone orders for the finals series.
Any remaining season ticketholder seats will be made available to the public by Saturday afternoon at NevadaWolfPack.com.
Ticket prices are set for the CBI finals: $61 for Premiere/Courtside; $36 for Lower Concourse; $16 for Upper Reserved; and $5 for students and children (18 and younger).
Fans are urged to use the Print-at-Home option at NevadaWolfPack.com, or pick up their tickets in advance, to avoid long lines at Will Call on gameday. Additionally, there is no permit parking for the game – open parking is allowed in West Stadium Parking Complex and all north campus lots.