Nevada Wolf Pack basketball beats Morehead State 77-68, plays for CBI Championship Friday night |

Nevada Wolf Pack basketball beats Morehead State 77-68, plays for CBI Championship Friday night

Eric Cooper brings the ball up the court for Nevada against Morehead State Wednesday, March 30, at Lawlor Events Center.
Thomas Ranson / Lahontan Valley News |

Eric Musselman expects nothing less than a Lawlor Events Center bursting at the seams on Friday night, April 1.

“I would be shocked if we didn’t get a sell out,” said Musselman of the College Basketball Invitational championship game Friday night (6 p.m., ESPNU) between his Nevada Wolf Pack and Morehead State Eagles. “It’s what I think the level of play deserves.”

The biggest crowd the Wolf Pack has attracted to any of its four CBI home games this year was the 7,431 that showed up Wednesday night, March 30, to see the Pack beat the Eagles 77-68 and even the best-of-three series at one game apiece.

“It’s the last time you’ll be able to watch basketball for six or seven months,” said Musselman of the season-ending game Friday. “I would hope that everyone understands the effort and hard work it took for this team to come as far as it has from when we started last spring.”

Musselman’s Wolf Pack can win its first national postseason tournament without winning a game away from Lawlor Events Center. The only time the Pack was forced to play on the road in this year’s CBI, it resulted in an 86-83 loss at Morehead State on Monday, March 28 to open the championship series.

“Playing at home in front of our crowd certainly gives us a lift,” Musselman said.

Musselman, who has made it a ritual to pump up the Lawlor crowd during games lately, can’t imagine why any Wolf Pack fan would want to miss what could be the only chance it ever has to see the team win a postseason tournament on its own home floor.

“There are no more days to play (after Friday),” Musselman said. “I am so proud of this team for putting itself in position to play a Game 3 in this series at home. This is going to be a neat thing for the entire community.”

The Wolf Pack had four players score in double figures to beat the Eagles on Wednesday. D.J. Fenner scored 26, followed by Cam Oliver (14), Tyron Criswell (12) and Marqueze Coleman (10). The Pack also continued its rejuvenated shooting, hitting on 50 percent (22-of-44) of its shots.

The remarkable shooting improvement has also shown up in Nevada’s 3-point accuracy. Heading into the CBI the Pack was making just .287 of its 3-point shots. In the five CBI games the Pack has been shooting at a scorching .455 accuracy rate from beyond the arc.

“We’ve put a lot of hours of hard work putting up shots in the gym this year,” freshman guard Lindsey Drew said.

The Wolf Pack expects an all-out wrestling match with the Eagles on Friday. The game on Wednesday featured 49 personal fouls and four technical fouls. There was a lot of pushing a shoving going on with the intensity even reaching Musselman and Morehead State coach Sean Woods. Woods walked past Musselman after the game without shaking his hand.

“I always make sure to take the high road in those situations,” Musselman said, obviously choosing his words carefully after the game. “They (Morehead State) are here for a good reason. They are very well coached. Sean does a great job.”

“We know exactly what we are getting into with this environment (at Lawlor) now,” Woods said. “We know how the game is going to be played. We just need to adjust and be ready to go.”

It was apparent that Morehead wanted to come to Lawlor and push the Pack around, just like it did at Morehead two days earlier.

“At Morehead they hit us in the mouth and we didn’t respond,” Fenner said. “We weren’t going to let that happen again.”

The game on Friday night will be the Wolf Pack’s school-record 38th of the year. A win will give the Pack 24 victories this year, the sixth most in school history. The game will also mark the first time in program history that the Wolf Pack has played a game in the month of April.

“I can’t wait for Friday,” Fenner said. “We want this more than words can explain. We’re tired. It’s been a long season. But when you know there’s just one more game and then you can rest, why not give it your all on Friday? And we’re not satisfied. We want to win a championship for us to be satisfied.”

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