Marqueze Coleman doesn’t want to talk about how many points he is scoring lately.
“I don’t want to jinx it,” smiled the Nevada Wolf Pack point guard after a 76-73 victory over the Portland State Vikings Wednesday night at Lawlor Events Center. “I just want to play basketball and make basketball plays.”
Coleman is making plays at the right time and scoring a ton of points for the 4-1 Wolf Pack. His 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down gave the Pack a 75-70 lead with 32 seconds to play. He also hit a jumper for a 64-60 lead with just under six minutes to play and a pair of free throws for a 66-62 lead with just under five minutes left. The 6-foot-4 senior finished with a team-high 21 points for his fourth consecutive game of 20 points or more. He is averaging 26.5 points over those four games and 24.0 for the season.
His favorite part of the victory, though, wasn’t his 3-pointer with 32 seconds to play or his dozen points in the second half.
“It was that man over there hitting threes,” said Coleman, looking over at teammate Eric Cooper.
Cooper drained a 3-pointer for a 62-60 lead with 5:53 to play and also connected from long distance for a 70-67 lead with 2:37 left. It was Coleman who fed Cooper on his second 3-pointer that broke a 67-67 tie. “I knew when it was in the air that it was going in,” Coleman said. “That is great for him because it will continue to build his confidence and make him want to shoot more.”
Cooper was shooting just 29 percent from the floor and 18 per cent (3-of-17) on 3-pointers entering the game. He was 4-of-11 from the floor and 2-of-7 on threes against Portland State. “I’ve had a slow start but it’s a long season,” Cooper said. “I just want to continue to build confidence game after game. It was just great to be on the floor late in the game and have the coach show that confidence in me.”
The Wolf Pack jumped out to an 8-1 lead four minutes into the game and 25-17 with eight minutes to go in the half after a 3-pointer by D.J. Fenner. The rest of the game, however, was a struggle as Portland State went inside to 6-7 forward Cameron Forte for a game-high 23 points. “Forte got whatever he wanted,” Wolf Pack coach Eric Musselman said. “They ran some good stuff for him and he scored.”
Portland State, now 2-2, led 43-40 after a dunk by Bryce White with 15:48 to play and also led 60-59 with 7:32 to go as a lay-up by Zach Gengler capped a 9-0 Vikings run. A lay-up by Forte tied the game at 67-67 with 3:47 to go. “This was our most sub-par defensive effort of the year,” Musselman said. “We obviously have a lot to learn from this game.”
Musselman was particularly unhappy with the Pack’s defense inside, especially from 6-9 senior A.J. West. “I think he got tired,” Musselman said. “On his transition defense it looked like he had a piano on his back.”
West, a normal starter, was benched at the beginning of the game because “I was disappointed in his lack of effort in practice,” Musselman said. Muselman also kept freshman forward Cameron Oliver 3 points, 4 rebounds in 15 minutes) on the bench at the start of the game because the freshman was late for the team’s shoot-around once this week.
West responded by scoring 16 points with eight rebounds in 26 minutes off the bench. His dunk gave the Pack a 46-45 lead with 13 minutes to, his layup off an offensive rebound gave the Pack a 50-47 lead with 11:57 left, his two free throws put the Pack up 52-49 with 11:25 left and his short jumper in the paint made it 59-54 Wolf Pack with 9:28 left.
“It was one of his most effective games from an offensive standpoint,” Musselman said.
West’s defense was another story. “One time he came to the bench and said, ‘I’m tired,’” Musselman said. “I said, ‘That’s fine but how about next time you tell me that before your man scores.’”
The Wolf Pack defense did come up with crucial stops when it mattered most. Fenner took a charge on Forte in the paint with 21 seconds to go and Tyron Criswell and Fenner teamed up to make Portland’s Calaen Robinson turn the ball over with a second to play. “I thought back to the Hawaii game (a 76-75 Pack loss) when I didn’t know how much time was left and they scored,“ said Fenner, who had 12 points. “That still makes me lose sleep. But this time I saw the clock and immediately went over to double team him and not let him get a shot off.”
The Wolf Pack unveiled its new pre-game warm-up about 15 minutes before tip off. The Harlem Globetrotters-style routine featured the Pack players dribbling the ball, spinning it on their fingertips and going through an entertaining lay-up and dunking drill, all set to music.
“I thought the guys were flawless,” said Musselman, whose father Bill originated the unique pre-game warmup as the head coach at the University of Minnesota in the early 1970s. “The people in the stands (more than half of the crowd of 5,890 witnessed the demonstration) seemed excited. I was worried a little about how it would affect us coming out of the gate. But we played our best basketball of the night in the first five minutes or so. I was kind of wondering if we should do the warm-up after halftime to get us going again. You know, that warm-up isn’t easy to do. But the guys did great. In fact, that was our best execution of the night.”
Musselman’s Wolf Pack is now almost halfway to the nine wins the Pack had all of last year. “This team believes it can win,” Musselman said. “And coming off of nine wins, that’s a huge step in our progress.”