The Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball team has hit rock bottom.
“It’s unexplainable,” said guard Michael Perez after a 66-64 loss to the struggling San Jose State on Tuesday night at Lawlor Events Center. The Spartans handed the Wolf Pack its fifth consecutive loss.
“I have no answer for it,” senior guard Deonte Burton said.
The Wolf Pack is now 12-15 overall and 7-7 in the Mountain West.
“I don’t think anybody saw this five-game losing streak coming,” Wolf Pack coach David Carter said. “I know I didn’t see it.”
San Jose State (7-19, 1-13) brought a 13-game losing streak into Lawlor Events Center. They left the building with their first-ever Mountain West victory. The Wolf Pack also saw its 12-game winning streak against the Spartans come to an end.
“This game is on the players,” Wolf Pack senior Jerry Evans said. “It’s totally on us.”
“Our lack of intensity is what got us,” Perez said. “We didn’t bring it.”
Burton called the loss to the Spartans one of the worst of his Wolf Pack career.
“I’d say so,” Burton said. “No question about it.”
A jumper in the lane by Burton gave the Wolf Pack a 53-50 lead with 8:40 to go. Burton’s shot turned out to be the Pack’s last successful field goal of the night. The Pack, which scored its final 11 points from the free throw line, missed its final eight shots.
The Spartans, which last won a game three days after Christmas, won the game on a 5-foot jumper in the lane by Jalen James with 1.8 seconds to play. James’ first shot was blocked by the Wolf Pack’s A.J. West but the ball went right back to the 6-foot-3 guard.
“We played behind the whole game,” Evans said. “We had to play catch-up the whole night.”
It only seemed that way.
The Wolf Pack led 12-7 after a pair of free throws by Evans six minutes into the game. Burton hit a 3-pointer for a 15-13 lead with 12:51 to go in the first half, Ronnie Stevens gave the Pack a 17-15 advantage with 11 minutes to go on a lay-up and Cole Huff’s layup put the Pack up 23-21 with 6:21 left.
The Pack then seemed to take the last six minutes of the first half off.
Isaac Thornton gave San Jose State a 26-23 lead with a 3-pointer with 3:39 to go in the half and D.J. Brown connected for another three for a 31-26 Spartans lead a minute later. The Spartans led 33-26 at the half as the Pack failed to score over the final 2:47.
“In the first half we were sleepwalking,” Burton said. “We came out with no energy. That’s unacceptable, to take a half off like that.”
It took the Wolf Pack seven minutes in the second half to erase the halftime deficit. Evans hit an 8-foot jumper and a free throw for a 3-point play to cut San Jose’s lead to 35-30 with 18:34 to go. West had a lay-up and Huff had a jumper as the Pack pulled to within 38-35 with 16:44 to go. Perez then gave the Pack its first lead of the second half at 41-40 with a lay-up off a Burton feed with 13 minutes to play.
West, who had eight points and nine rebounds, gave the Pack a 44-43 lead with 12 minutes to go and Perez put the Pack up 49-48 on a 3-pointer with 10:23 to go. Huff, who led the Pack along with Burton with 14 points each, drove the lane for a short jumper and a 51-48 Pack lead with 9:17 to go.
The Wolf Pack’s offense, though, dried up after Burton’s shot in the lane gave them a 53-50 lead. The Spartans went on a 10-0 run over the next four minutes to take a 60-53 lead with 4:24 to play. A free throw by Jaleel Williams gave the Spartans a 63-58 lead with just 1:28 to go.
The Wolf Pack, though, then came alive. Huff made four free throws to slice the deficit to 63-62 with 34 seconds left. A Rashad Muhammad free throw gave San Jose State a 64-62 lead but Burton tied it at 64-64 with a pair of free throws with 10 seconds to go.
But that was as far as the Pack comeback would go. James, who finished with seven points, then won the game with his floater over West in the lane with just under two seconds to play. A desperation 3-pointer by Perez from about 35 feet out fell short at the buzzer.
“We need to get the ship righted,” Burton said. “We better figure it out quick or its going to be too late.”
The Wolf Pack has just two games remaining at home (March 2 against New Mexico and March 8 against UNLV) and two road games (Saturday at Air Force and March 5 at Boise State).
“I can’t make free throws for them,” said Carter, whose Wolf Pack lost its last eight games last year to finish 12-19. “I can’t make open shots. Guys have to have the courage to make those.”
Carter said his team might be mentally wearing out down the stretch.
“We’ve lost a lot of confidence,” Carter said. “And now we’re fighting to get it back and it’s hard.”
The Pack made just 5-of-21 3-pointers as Huff and Evans combined to go 0-for-10. Evans, who was 0-for-4, had made at least one 3-pointer in the last nine games. San Jose State was 9-of-25 from 3-point range. The Spartans’ bench, led by Muhammad’s 11 points, also outscored the Pack bench 21-5.
“Our margin for error is so small,” Carter said. “Everybody has to play well for us to win. Everybody has to contribute.”
San Jose State scored more than 60 points for the first time in nine games.
“I think we can turn it around,” Carter said. “This team is not giving up. It’s not like that.”