RENO — Cameron Oliver only needed half a game to lead the Nevada Wolf Pack to another victory Saturday at Lawlor Events Center.
“I’m beaming with pride how he dominated the game in the second half,” Wolf Pack coach Eric Musselman said after a 79-71 win over the Drake Bulldogs in front of a crowd of 5,541. “That is off-the-charts great for our program moving forward.”
Oliver played just four minutes in the first half because of foul trouble and didn’t score a point or pull down a rebound.
“He sat and rotted on the bench,” said Musselman, whose Wolf Pack improved to 7-3. “When a freshman sits that long, you are concerned about how someone his age is going to handle that.”
“I was real frustrated in the first half,” the 6-foot-8 Oliver said. “But I knew I just had to stay mature and come out and treat it like a brand new game.”
Oliver came out in the second half and scored 17 points and pulled down six rebounds, four off the offensive glass. He also had a block and a steal.
“He took a page out of my book and scored all his points in the second half,” smiled Wolf Pack guard Marqueze Coleman.
Oliver, who also had 17 points against Holy Names on Nov. 30, scored his first two points on a jumper with 18 minutes left in the second half, giving the Pack a 37-32 lead. Two minutes later he scored on a jumper in the paint for a 42-37 lead. He also connected from about 12 feet out for a 53-42 lead with just under 13 minutes to go.
“I just wanted to play my role and stay humble,” Oliver said.
Oliver hit a 3-pointer for a 59-44 lead with 11:12 to go and he brought the crowd to its feet with a dunk and a 61-46 lead just 28 seconds later. He also contributed defensively, blocking a shot by Drake’s Casey Schlatter and starting a fast break that resulted in a lay-up by Tyron Criswell at the other end and a 51-39 lead.
Oliver, who’s now averaging 10.5 points a game, played 18 of the 20 minutes in the second half and was even on the court scoring the Pack’s final two points of the game on a lay-up with 46 seconds to go.
“I didn’t want him going out there trying to force things and just trying to get his points because he didn’t play well in the first half,” Musselman said. “I just told him to try to get an easy basket if it’s there, just to get going. Well, the first thing he does is go out and hit an 18 footer. But that’s Cameron. He does the opposite.”
Musselman called the victory over the Missouri Valley Conference Bulldogs “by far our best game of the year.”
The Wolf Pack had five players score in double figures, led by Coleman’s 19. Tyron Criswell had 10 points and a game-high 12 rebounds as the Pack had a 38-34 edge on the boards. The Wolf Pack also turned the ball over just seven times, just one game after committing 20 turnovers in a 119-70 win over Division II Fresno Pacific on Wednesday.
“We shared the ball, we trusted each other,” said guard D.J. Fenner, who had 13 points and three assists. “We had a complete game.”
The Wolf Pack trailed in the game for a mere 40 seconds, after a 3-pointer by Kale Abrahamson gave Drake a 22-21 lead with 5:22 to go in the first half. The Pack led by eight points or more over the final 14:48.
Coleman, though, made sure the Pack, which led by as much as 17 (63-46 with 10:10 to go), wouldn’t squander its comfortable lead. With the Pack up 71-63 with 4:34 to go after a lay-up by Schlatter, Coleman took over the game.
“He told me he wanted to go playground style with no screens,” Musselman said. “That’s part of being a senior and having an astute basketball mind. He knew what he wanted to do. You know, sometimes you have to trust your players in tough situations.”
Musselman trusted Coleman and Coleman put the game away. The 6-foot-4 guard scored off a runner on the right side of the lane for a 73-63 lead with 4:34 to go. He then drove the lane for a lay up and a 75-63 lead with 3:10 to go and capped off his six-point flurry with a short jumper on the left side of the lane for a 77-63 lead with 2:20 to go.
“I just wanted to put my mark on the game,” said Coleman, who had a game-high four assists and two steals to go along with his 19 points.
Coleman and the Wolf Pack enjoyed a significant edge in athleticism and quickness against the Bulldogs (4-6).
“We knew going into the game that we had that advantage,” Coleman said.
“They had the advantage in jump shooting and we had the advantage athletically,” Musselman said.
The Bulldogs, which were coming off a 74-71 loss at home on Wednesday to the DePaul Blue Demons, were 10-of-22 on 3-pointers while the Pack was just 4-of-19. Abrahamson had four 3-pointers but his teammate, Graham Woodward, was 0-for-7 beyond the arc.
“We don’t get down on ourselves when we miss three or four shots in a row,” Coleman said. “We just always feel that the next shot is going in. We just continue to play basketball.”
The victory over Drake was part of the Mountain West-Missouri Valley Conference Challenge and is the first for the Wolf Pack over the Iowa school in five meetings. The two teams last met in 2012 with Drake winning 76-66. The Wolf Pack will host Santa Clara at Lawlor Events Center on Friday night (7 p.m.).