Jordan Caroline and the top-seeded Nevada Wolfpack took care of business Thursday against Utah State, ending the Aggies’ tournament run in the quarterfinal round 83-69. Senior wing Jalen Moore put up a career-high 27 points in his final college game.
“I give a lot of credit to Nevada, I thought they were tremendous,” said USU head coach Tim Duryea. “And I didn’t think we played poorly. But they were very, very good.”
While the Pack never quite advanced the game into blowout territory, the Mountain West regular season champions held full control over the Aggies from the starting tip. An early 14-2 run established the night’s theme — Utah State struggling to contain UNR’s freaky athleticism, and the Wolfpack comfortably holding the Aggies at arm’s reach.
“Boy, the start they had was really good,” Duryea said. “I think they played extremely well. And we needed them to have a little bit of a slow start and have some doubt, and they didn’t do that.”
A Moore-led Utah State run erased the early deficit, bringing the Aggies within a point and forcing a Nevada timeout. But hot shooting from beyond the arc undermined any USU attempt to keep pace, as the Wolfpack hit 7-of-15 3-point attempts for a 45-28 halftime lead.
Moore’s valiant determination to stay in the tournament failed to rally the Aggies’ supporting cast, as only he and freshman guard Koby McEwen managed to score in double digits. Moore’s career-high 27 points on 9-17 shooting came as quick gasps of air hastily swallowed before again being swept up in Nevada’s unstoppable offensive riptide.
“I didn’t obviously want the season to end,” Moore said. “I was trying to be consistent, make the open shots and just play consistently. That was pretty much what went well for me.”
Even with two of their regular starters benched early with a pair of fouls, the Wolfpack garnered points on nearly 52 percent field goal shooting in the first half.
“If you would have told me before the game that [DJ] Fenner and [Cameron] Oliver would miss a lot of the first half, then I would have thought we would be in better position than what we were,” Duryea said. “But part of being a really good team, kids like King, comes in the first half and he’s shooting less than 20 percent from three on the year, makes two 3’s. And Lindsey Drew throws in a couple of 3’s, and that’s not his role for them. And Josh Hall plays well. They took up the slack and wouldn’t let us close the gap.”
Nevada physically outmatched the Aggies on the boards, winning the rebounding battle 38-29 — Duryea’s point of emphasis after a loss in Reno earlier in the season. Oft-lauded freshman backcourt duo Koby McEwen and Sam Merrill finished the contest shooting 7-of-22 from the floor. Typically stout interior defense gave way to Oliver’s above-the-rim playstyle. By the time Nevada’s 3-point shooting cooled off in the second half, the Wolfpack had their starters back in to seal Utah State’s fate with clock-melting possessions ending in made jumpers and easy layups. By the time the score went final, Utah State had well accepted its fate as a good team standing in the way of a great team hellbent on dancing in the NCAA tournament later this month.
“I crave the first game every season,” Oliver said after the Nevada victory. “I think postseason, this is crunch time… Anything can happen in tournaments.”
With Moore departing and a young core boasting limits unknown, coach Duryea is already thinking ahead.
“We’ve got to improve internally,” Duryea said. “We’ve got a couple of kids coming in, got a couple more to add, pieces on the front court. But I like the direction we’re going.”