LAS VEGAS — Revenge is oh so sweet, especially when it comes against your hated rival.
Nevada went on a 39-14 surge to end the first half en route to a 101-75 win over UNLV Wednesday night at Thomas & Mack, avenging its only home loss of the season.
Nevada has won three of the last four against the Rebels, all by wide margins. Last season, the Pack won 104-77 at home and 94-58 in Las Vegas.
“I thought we played very well on both sides of the floor,” Nevada coach Eric Musselman said after the Pack improved to 26-5 overall and 15-2 in conference play. “Our locker room is really focused. We watched the St.Bonaventure-Davidson game and the San Diego State-Boise game (on Tuesday) together in the ballroom. Our camaraderie and chemistry is as good as it’s been since I’ve been here.
“I couldn’t be prouder of how we played. We weren’t playing for ourselves. We were playing for our fans and alumni. We know what this game means to Northern Nevada.”
Jordan Caroline, who finished with 22 points and six rebounds, agreed.
“We had to get them back,” he said. “That fueled our fire.”
It was the Pack that was on fire, especially in the opening 20 minutes. Nevada walked off the floor with a 54-28 lead.
The 54-point effort was Nevada’s best opening half of the season, and it included one of the best 9-minute stretches the Pack has played this season. The Pack hit 64.3 percent from beyond the arc in the opening 20 minutes.
Leading 15-14 with 13:45 left, the Pack went on a 32-6 run to build a huge 47-20 lead, and completely take control of the contest.
In that phenomenal stretch, Nevada went 11-for-19 from the floor, including seven 3-pointers. Nevada could hardly miss, and the Rebels made it easy whether it was long distance or in the key. Nevada blew by defenders for easy layups as 7-foot Brandon McCoy and Shakur Juiston didn’t offer a lot of resistance.
Caroline, who didn’t miss a shot in the opening half and had 16 of his 22 in the first 20 minutes, started the surge with a layup. He had 10 in the aforementioned run. In the first half, he was 6-for-6 from the floor and 3-for-3 from the line.
“Going into the game, we emphasized getting to the basket,” Caroline said. “Pretty much wanted to get him (McCoy) moving and get him off balance. We really got rolling and everybody was hot.”
“Jordan was crazy good in the first half, taking people off the bounce,” Musselman said. “We didn’t have high volume assists. Found open guys. Our shot selection was phenomenal. We shot the 3, and that opened the dribble-drive. I liked how we attacked off the dribble. We didn’t settle for 15 footers like we did the last time.”
After a misfire and turnover on the same possession following Caroline’s lay-up, Caleb Martin (19 points) drained a 3-pointer for a 20-14 lead. After two empty UNLV possessions, Kendall Stephens (14 points) got into the act with a howitzer from the left corner. Cody Martin (26 points) scored on a drive with 9:57 left to make it 25-14.
Caleb Martin made it a 13-0 run with a 3-pointer to make it 28-14. UNLV ended the drought with 8:03 left, cutting the margin ever so slightly to 28-16. Cody and Caleb Martin each buried a 3, and then Caroline scored five straight to make it 39-18.
After Amauri Hardy scored on a drive, triples by Caroline and Stephens plus a deuce by Stephens completed the surge and gave Nevada a 47-20 advantage. The lead reached 30, 52-22 on another 3 by Caleb Martin and a follow shot by Cody Martin.
The Rebels, who got double-doubles from Brandon McCoy (19 points, 17 rebounds) and Shakur Juiston (14 points, 14 rebounds), got zilch from Jovan Mooring, who burned the Pack for 31 in the game at Lawlor.
Mooring went 2-for-11 in the opening half and he went 0-for-5 in the final 20 minutes. He was a non-factor to be sure, and that may have been a bigger key than Nevada’s first-half outburst.
“We wanted to make him uncomfortable,” Cody Martin said. “We wanted to force him left even if he was on the right side of the floor. We wanted to make him do stuff outside his comfort zone. We wanted to make him take tough shots.”
“No air space and no transition baskets,” Musselman said when asked how he wanted Mooring defended.
The second half was anticlimactic. The lead never slipped under 20.
Nevada used a 20-7 run to get its largest lead, 94-61, with 4:36 left in the contest as five players contributed in the surge that sent UNLV fans scurrying to the exits like they were trying to escape a hurricane.
“The last two games at home I didn’t feel we played that well against San Jose State and Colorado State,” Musselman said. “I felt like we needed to play better and get into a rhythm going into the stretch run.”
“We have reached some of our goals, but we still have a lot of stuff to do,” Cody Martin said.