By Sandeep Chandok:
Had Nevada lost in today’s Mountain West Tournament Championship, it likely still would’ve received a bid to the NCAA Tournament based on its regular season success.
It didn’t want to rely on the past, however, and neither did Jordan Caroline.
Caroline, the tournament MVP, led the Wolfpack with 23 points and 10 rebounds en route to a 79-71 win over Colorado State.
Offense aside, Caroline also held the Rams’ Emmanuel Omogbo to just 10 points and 0-4 shooting from behind the arc.
“I wanted to help my team anyway I could to get to the tournament,” Caroline said. “Not just scoring, [also] defensively.”
Caroline, along with teammates Cameron Oliver and Marcus Marshall, made the All-Tournament team as did Colorado State’s Prentiss Nixon and Gian Clavell.
Oliver scored a lowly four points but hauled in 13 rebounds while also blocking two shots. Marshall, the regular season leading-scorer in the Mountain West, went just 4-13 from the floor but still managed 21 points as he knocked down 12-16 from the charity stripe. The 16 attempts from the line set a tournament finals record.
“Coach Muss always tell me just try to get to the line and that helped me get going,” Marshall said. “I just try to stay in attack mode and I got there.”
For coach Eric Musselman, he has brought change and progression to Nevada in just two years. In 2015, he inherited a 9-22 Wolfpack team and transformed it to a 24-14 Mountain West powerhouse that won the 2016 College Basketball Invitational Championship.
And now, in just his second season, Musselman’s Wolfpack team has won the regular-season Mountain West title and the tournament championship — the first team to do since New Mexico in 2013.
“Probably the biggest thing is just thanking these guys for believing in a vision,” Musselman said. “This was our goal from day one.”
Colorado State, on the other hand, is now 23-11 and will have to wait for Selection Sunday to see if it gets a ticket to the Big Dance. Although this is unlikely, Mountain West Player of the Year Clavell could be the lone reason why the Rams would receive an invite to the tournament.
Clavell dropped a monster 30 points for Colorado State and helped dig the Rams out of a 16-point first-half hole to draw even with 11:31 remaining in the game. Nixon too was decisive in the Rams’ comeback, as he splashed in six threes in a 23-point display on 47 percent shooting.
After the game, Nixon was adamant of his team even though it came up short.
“This team had the most heart that I’ve ever seen as a team I’ve been on,” Nixon said. “It won’t stop [and] it won’t quit — ever.”
Nevada now awaits its seeding in the tournament which will be determined Sunday morning. Regardless of the number next to its name, the Wolfpack isn’t satisfied with simply making it to the field of 68.
“We’re happy that we’re going but we’re going there to compete,” Musselman said. “We’re going there to win.”