Nevada Beat Texas 87-83 In OT Thriller Friday, Advancing To The NCAA Tournament’s Second Round
No. 7 Wolf Pack will play No. 2 Cincinnati on Sunday
Nevada picked up its first NCAA Tournament win since 2007
As the adage goes, “experience wins in March.”
On Friday, it did just that.
Trailing by as many as 14 points, the experienced, transfer-led Nevada Wolf Pack stunned No. 10 seed Texas 87-83 at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee. Along the way, any remaining skeptics of Nevada’s transfer-heavy rotation have been silenced.
Five of the six Nevada players that appeared in Friday’s win over Texas began their college careers at another university. Each of the five had a sizable impact in the program’s first NCAA Tournament win since 2007.
- North Carolina State transfer Caleb Martin pocketed a trio of three-pointers in a hectic overtime session to grab the lead for the final time.
- His twin, Cody Martin, also a North Carolina State transfer, was huge on both ends, blocking four shots and adding 15 points on eight shot attempts from the field.
- Southern Illinois transfer Jordan Caroline knocked down a clutch free throw – after missing four of his first five attempts – to tie the game and send it to overtime.
- Purdue transfer Kendall Stephens led Nevada in scoring with 22 points, sparking a run that would eventually allow the Wolf Pack to cut into a 14-point deficit.
- Oregon State and Iowa State transfer Hallice Cooke (6-3, 190) defended future NBA lottery pick Mo Bamba (6-11, 225) on a number of possessions, keeping the highly-talented center in check.
Many thought a roster consisting almost entirely of transfers wouldn’t work. Some thought it was a gimmick. Instead, Nevada will be playing for a Sweet 16 berth Sunday against two-seeded Cincinnati.
“The progress of where this program has come…we made it here last year, we’ve grinded since the beginning of the summer with the goal in mind of trying to advance,” Nevada head coach Eric Musselman said after Nevada’s first NCAA Tournament win in over a decade.
Musselman arrived in Reno in 2015, inheriting a roster of a nine-win team, and went to work. He immediately instilled his philosophy of building rosters with highly-successful transfers, and just three years later, it has translated into an NCAA Tournament win.
There isn’t a secret formula. Musselman and his staff admitted that it could take years to field competitive rosters in the Mountain West. To speed up the process, the Nevada coaching staff has opted to approach the transfer market in a similar way that professional sports teams view free agency. The coaches assemble a “big board” of available transfers that fit the program’s mold, consistently eyeing prospects 365 days a year to propel the roster to another level.
Nevada’s resurgence has propelled the Mountain West back to national relevancy after a two-year lull. Musselman’s group spent about half the season in the Associated Press poll, a feat that had eluded the conference for over a thousand days. Nevada also notched an NCAA Tournament at-large bid and tournament victory, both of which hadn’t occurred the past two seasons.
There have been bumps along the way, sure. Nevada booted St. John’s transfer Darien Williams earlier in the season for violation of team rules while do-it-all guard Lindsey Drew suffered a season-ending Achilles injury attempting a half-court shot, making a short rotation even shorter. Because of the infusion of non-graduate transfers, the program is forced to burn a number of their scholarships on redshirts for players who must sit out due to NCAA transfer rules. Musselman has added two football players to the roster to gain some extra bodies on the bench, but as strong as the seven-man rotation is, the Wolf Pack remains just one more injury or a handful of fouls away from having to go nuclear.
When it mattered most, though, the puzzle pieces perfectly aligned for the Wolf Pack.
“Transfer U” is here to stay.