Nevada Wolf Pack basketball downs Vermont 86-72 in CBI semifinals, advances to championship series |

Nevada Wolf Pack basketball downs Vermont 86-72 in CBI semifinals, advances to championship series

Nevada's Marqueze Coleman goes up for a shot against Vermont in the CBI semifinals Wednesday, March 23, at Lawlor Events Center.
Thomas Ranson / Lahontan Valley News |

RENO, Nev. — Marqueze Coleman uttered the two words on Wednesday night, March 23, the Nevada Wolf Pack has been longing to hear for the last month.

“He made a shot, turned to the bench and said, ‘I’m back,’” Wolf Pack coach Eric Musselman said.

Coleman, who has played sparingly since injuring his ankle Feb. 24, is indeed back to his old self. The senior point guard scored 20 points and dished out three assists as the Wolf Pack rolled over the Vermont Catamounts, 86-72, in the semifinals of the College Basketball Invitational in front of a crowd of 6,133 at Lawlor Events Center. The Wolf Pack (22-13) will now meet Morehead State (22-12) in a three-game series starting Monday, March 28, at Morehead State. The second and third games of the series will be at Lawlor Events Center next Wednesday and Friday, March 30 and April 1.

Coleman played 29 minutes against the Catamounts and converted 6-of-7 shots. Since injuring his left ankle, he had scored a total of four points in three appearances over 36 minutes before Wednesday.

“It’s so great to see,” said Wolf Pack center Cam Oliver, who had a game-high 23 points and 11 rebounds. “During one huddle I just told everyone, ‘He’s back now.’ I love it. You can see it on his face. He’s happy now.”

Coleman played 16 minutes in the first half and was 4-of-4 from the floor for 13 points as the Pack took a 37-35 halftime lead. At one point in the second half he also looked up in the crowd and said the words, “I’m back, I’m back,” with a big smile on his face.

“I was saying that to my dad,” Coleman said. “That was a good feeling. It also feels good to say it and produce. To be able to say that was huge for me.”

The Wolf Pack, which has never lost to Vermont in four games, outscored the Catamounts 49-37 in the second half and never trailed the entire game. Vermont (23-14) was only able to tie the game four times, the last time at 33-33 after a 3-pointer by Ernie Duncan with 1:48 to go in the first half. A 3-pointer by Eric Cooper 11 seconds later gave the Pack a lead that would hold up for the rest of the game as Vermont lost in the CBI semifinals for the second straight year.

“Our defense was phenomenal in the second half,” Musselman said. “In the first half we let Vermont get a little too comfortable in their offensive sets. I think we were too concerned with their three ball early on.”

The Pack turned in one of its better all-around offensive efforts against Vermont. Guard D.J. Fenner scored 21 points, giving the Pack three 20-point scorers in one game for the first time this season.

“The unique thing about this team is we keep getting better and better,” Musselman said. “Tonight we really moved the ball. We didn’t force threes. We’re scoring the ball now at a high clip (83 points a game in the CBI wins over Montana, Eastern Washington and Vermont).”

The win over Vermont is the Pack’s school-record third win in one postseason national tournament. The 2004 team won two in the NCAA tournament and the 2012 team won two in the NIT. The Pack’s 22 wins are also the sixth most in school history.

“Not a lot of college basketball teams can say they get to play for a championship so this is special,” Fenner said.

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