RENO, Nev. — Too many turnovers and empty possessions were a recipe for an ugly start to the Mountain West portion of the schedule for Utah State.
It didn’t help the Aggie men’s basketball team was playing the No. 6 ranked team in the country. Nevada overcame some offensive dryspells by harassing Aggie shooters most of the night. The Wolf Pack rolled to a 72-49 victory Wednesday night at the Lawlor Events Center in the league opener for both teams in front of 11,224 fans.
“Well, it was painful to watch on offense,” USU head coach Craig Smith said. “I thought we played really well defensively. We turn it over 20 times and it’s going to be difficult to win. It was the same thing with 17 turnovers at Houston. Obviously, their length and athleticism really bothered us.”
The Aggies (10-4, 0-1 MW) did turn the ball over 20 times in the game. Those mistakes were turned into 23 points.
“They beat us tonight,” said USU guard Sam Merrill, who finished with a team-best 16 points. “I don’t think they are 23 points better than us. We had another good defensive game. … We got to find a way to cut down our turnovers. That’s the biggest thing for us right now.”
With the win, Nevada (14-0, 1-0) ties its best start in school history and begins its quest for a third straight MW title. The 1951-52 Wolf Pack team was also 14-0. Nevada is one of four remaining undefeated teams among the Division I ranks.
“They are a good team,” Smith said. “You don’t need to play perfect basketball, but certainly when you make mistakes, it really, really is magnified against a team like this. There is a reason they are one of four undefeated teams in the country, because they have got it all.”
Jordan Caroline flirted with a triple-double for the Wolf Pack. He finished with a team-high 15 points, a game-high 12 rebounds and a game-best seven assists in 37 minutes of action.
Joining Caroline in double-digit scoring was Cody Martin (14), Tre’Shawn Thurman (14) and Jazz Johnson (10) off the bench.
Merrill had just one teammate join him in double-figure scoring. Brock Miller had 10 points. Neemias Queta finished with a team-high 10 rebounds and might have had 10 points, but it was ruled a tip in off a rebound came off Caroline and not Queta.
Nevada shot 39.3 percent from the field and 24.1 percent from long range (7 of 29). USU shot a season-low 26.2 percent from the field and 17.4 percent from 3-point land (4 of 23).
“We got a lot of good looks we just didn’t make tonight,” Merrill said. “You compound that with the turnovers, and we only put up 49 points. Lots of things we know we can fix.”
After four lead changes over the first five-and-a-half minutes, the Wolf Pack strung together seven unanswered points. Cody Martin sank a pair of free throws to give the hosts a 12-6 lead with 14:40 left in the opening half.
Nevada came up empty on five straight possessions after its mini-run. However, USU could not take full advantage, scoring just four points.
“Their size and length got us really sped up on the offensive end,” Smith said. “We had some clean looks that didn’t fall.”
Thurman sparked a 8-0 run with a bucket in the paint and then a dunk. Cody Martin finished off the surge with two drives to the hoop. The Wolf Pack took a 25-13 lead with 6:53 left in the first half.
Two minutes later, the Aggies put their only run of the first half. Abel Porter made a free throw, missed the second, but Queta was there to tip in the miss. That sparked a 10-2 run by the visitors. Merrill capped the run with a 3-pointer, pulling USU within 29-25 with 1:41 left before intermission.
Despite seemingly getting some momentum on their side, the Aggies finished the first 20 minutes with three straight turnovers. The Wolf Pack used a 6-0 run to take a 35-25 lead at the break.
Utah State had 11 turnovers in the first half.
Back-to-back 3-pointers by the Wolf Pack early in the second half and a free throw gave the hosts their largest lead to that point, 44-30. A few minutes later, Nevada was expanding that lead to 54-37 with 11:50 to play.
The Aggies were never closer than 16 points the rest of the way. The final score was the largest lead of the game for the Wolf Pack.
“At the end of the day, I thought we defended really well,” Smith said. “We got to the glass well. We just had those turnovers and missed shots.”
Utah State began the day at No. 35 in the NET, the new ranking system being used by the NCAA this season, while Nevada was at No. 11. … The Aggies outrebounded the Wolf Pack, 44-43, and have outrebounded every opponent this season except Houston. … USU is 0-3 on the season when trailing at halftime. … The 49 points were a season low for the Aggies. … Merrill moved up to No. 28 on the all-time scoring list, tying Troy Collier with 1,109 career points. … Queta has blocked at least one shot in every game this year as he had five Wednesday night and now has 34 on the year. … Justin Bean played eight minutes, grabbing five rebounds, scoring four points and dishing out an assist. … Nevada’s Jazz Johnson entered the game leading the country in 3-point shooting percentage at 59.6 percent, but was 2 of 6 against USU. ... The Aggies still lead the all-time series with the Wolf Pack, 35-23, having lost the last five meetings.
AGGIES VS. RANKED TEAMS
Utah State has struggled against teams ranked in the AP Top 25 over the years.
Wednesday night was the second opportunity to end a long streak of losses to ranked opponents. The Aggies are now 16-101 all-time against AP Top 25 teams and have dropped the last 16.
Last month they lost at No. 21 Houston, 60-50, after leading for more than half the game.
USU’s last victory against a ranked team was actually against Nevada. The victory came in the final week of the 2006-07 season when the Aggies beat the then No. 10 Wolf Pack, 79-77, in overtime in Logan. A week later at the WAC Tournament, USU beat Nevada again by the same score, 79-77.
Nevada is the highest ranked opponent USU has played since facing then No. 6 Duke on Nov. 29, 2015.
It was a hard night for the Aggies, but Queta tried to battle with several Wolf Pack big men. The true freshman finished with eight points on 4 of 8 shooting. He grabbed a team-best 10 rebounds and blocked a game-high five shots, which tied for his career high. Queta also came up with a steal and played 29 minutes.
AGGIE DUNK COUNT
It wasn’t for a lack of trying, but USU failed to throw one down in the first half as several attempts were blocked. In the second half, Queta was able to ram one home off a nice drive and pass from Bean on the break.
The leaders for the season remain the same with Queta way out in front with 15, while John Knight III is next with six dunks. Rounding out the rest of the dunkers is Brown (4), Diogo Brito (2), Taylor (1).
The Aggies return home for their MW home opener. They take on Air Force (5-8, 0-1) Saturday night at 7. The Falcons hosted New Mexico Wednesday night and lost, 65-58.