The Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball team has hit rock bottom.
“I’ve been here 14 years,” Wolf Pack coach David Carter said. “I’ve never gone through this.”
The Wolf Pack, desperate for a victory on its own court, lost to the Fresno State Bulldogs, the last-place team in the Mountain West, 69-64 in overtime Tuesday night at Lawlor Events Center.
After the game Carter was visibly angry with his team.
“I just told them, ‘Next year there has to be changes,’” said Carter, whose team has now lost nine of its last 12 games to fall to 12-13 overall and 3-8 in the Mountain West. “‘Drastic changes. You guys had your chance. There’s got to be changes.’”
Fresno’s Kevin Foster drained a 3-pointer with six seconds to go in the second half to send the game into overtime.
“I told them to switch off screens and get a hand in their face and then he (Foster) gets a clean look,” Carter said.
Carter said he didn’t tell his team to automatically foul on the Bulldogs’ last possession in regulation, despite the 3-point lead with under 10 seconds to play. “I wanted to make them to get a hand up on their shot,” Carter said. “I was afraid of an offensive rebound (on a missed free throw). I was scared how ugly it could get.”
It did indeed get ugly.
Carter said his team was devastated emotionally going into the overtime. The Pack, after all, saw a 53-45 lead with five minutes to go evaporate on their own floor against a team that had won just two games since New Year’s Eve.
“We got in the huddle and they all had their heads down,” Carter said. “I had to get their heads back in the game.”
Fresno, which lost to the Wolf Pack 68-61 in Fresno on Jan. 19, won the overtime 11-6 to improve to 9-16, 3-9. Fresno’s Tyler Johnson had a dunk for a 60-58 lead with 3:22 left and also hit a short jumper for a 63-59 lead with 53 seconds remaining. Allen Huddleston, Foster and Jerry Brown then each made two free throws in the final 30 seconds to secure the victory.
Missed free throws by the Wolf Pack were the reason the game even went to overtime.
The Pack missed eight free throws in the second half and saw a 53-45 lead with five minutes to play turn into a 53-53 tie two minutes later. The biggest missed free throw was by Malik Story with 14 seconds to go with the Pack up 58-55, giving Fresno a chance to tie the game with a 3-pointer.
“Missed free throws,” Carter said, “That’s concentration. “You can’t make free throws. Maybe you’re not a Division I player.”
Carter wasn’t making any excuses for his team after the frustrating loss. The Pack led by as much as 10 (45-35) with 14 minutes to go and still had the game in control, up by eight (53-45) with five minutes left.
“You’re at home, you had the game in your grasp,” Carter said. “You have to make free throws. That’s just toughness. We have to address that. It has to come from somewhere.”
The Pack’s two leading scorers, Deonte Burton and Story (both averaging 16.2 points a game), combined for just 17 points. Story was 1-of-11 from the floor (1-of-7 on threes) and finished with six points in 33 minutes. Burton was 5-of-14 and finished with 17. The three other starters — Cole Huff, Jerry Evans and Kevin Panzer — combined for 21 points in 88 minutes.
“We still had control of the game,” Carter said. “But we kept missing free throws.”
The Pack started to misfire from the free throw line in the second half, leading 45-37. Ali Fall missed twice with 12:06 to play, Marqueze Coleman missed once with 6:54 to go, Burton missed once with 6:06 to go and Coleman missed twice with 5:23 to play.
“This is getting old,” said Carter, who wouldn’t allow his players to talk to the media after the game. “I can’t shoot free throws for them. The thing that really bothers me about all this is that they are juniors now. It’s not like they just got here.”
The Wolf Pack is now 10-5 at home this season and 2-4 at home in conference play. A year ago they were 16-2 at home.
“It is what it is,” Carter said. “We are what we are. Toughness comes from within. Toughness is part of making free throws.”
Fresno State had lost three in a row, nine of its last 11 and 13 of its last 16 before beating the Wolf Pack. And the Wolf Pack’s schedule only gets tougher from here on out.
The Pack travels to San Diego State to play the Aztecs on Saturday (3 p.m.) and will be at Boise State on Feb. 23 before returning home for its final two games at Lawlor Events Center against UNLV (March 2) and New Mexico (March 6). The regular season ends with a game at Colorado State on March 9.
“I don’t have any answers,” Carter said. “As a coach, there’s only so much you can control. It’s up to them (the players) to decide what they want to be.”