Comeback Pack? Nevada Returns To The Pit Where It All Started
Nevada makes its return to Albuquerque for the first time since its historic 25-point comeback
Nevada takes on New Mexico Saturday night
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Nevada’s matchup against New Mexico on January 7, 2017, certainly wasn’t meaningless, but no one could have guessed the long-term impacts it would have on both programs.
The Wolf Pack entered The Pit that night 13-3, fresh off an upset of conference heavyweight San Diego State three nights before, and was looking to establish itself as a legitimate Mountain West competitor.
New Mexico was in a different spot. The Lobos had stumbled to a 9-6 record to that point, desperately needing a win to build momentum and stave off further rumors about then-head coach Craig Neal‘s job security. What better way to make a statement than beating an up-and-coming conference opponent on national television?
Little did Eric Musselman or Craig Neal know that January 7, 2017, was going to further change their respective head coaching careers.
You know what happened by now. But like a grandfather repeating anecdotes to his grandchildren even though they know the stories word for word, I need to do the same here.
Nevada was left for dead early on in Musselman’s second trip to Albuquerque. The Wolf Pack had faded towards the end of the first half and trailed 44-31 at the break. Not impossible by any stretch, but even at that point a comeback seemed unlikely.
Then it got worse.
The Lobos, hungry for a win to reenergize the troops, bursted out of the intermission by scoring 32 points over the first ten minutes of the second half. To say things were decided with 11 minutes left on the clock and New Mexico up 74-49 would have been an understatement.
Yes. It was 74-49.
Fast forward to 76 seconds remaining with Nevada trailing 90-76, a more manageable but still all-but-impossible deficit to dig out of for the Pack.
Charlie Tooley started off the three-point barrage. He only played six minutes that night (and averaged just 2.7 minutes per game during the season) but was responsible for the shot that got everything going for Nevada. Tooley pulled up in transition from the wing for a three-pointer that would bring the deficit to 11.
New Mexico went down and missed a pair of free throws, again keeping the door cracked for Nevada to pull off the unthinkable. Marcus Marshall received a dribble hand-off and uncorked a deep and greatly-contested triple that would make the score 90-82.
The Lobos could only tally one free throw on the following possession and Nevada had a chance to get within two possessions with another three-pointer. Marcus Marshall. Same spot on the floor.
Visibly frustrated and almost uncertain with what was happening, New Mexico again failed to sink a pair of free throws. This time it was Jordan Caroline’s turn from deep.
At this point, Nevada had 28 seconds to come back from a 92-88 hole. Far more doable than before, but one had to wonder just how much longer New Mexico would miss free throws and Nevada would sink acrobatic three-pointers from way downtown.
Jalen Harris knocked down a pair of free throws and the rest of the scoring in regulation went to the Wolf Pack. Marcus Marshall, again, hoisted another off-balance three-pointer that resulted in him hitting the deck.
Three-point game. Nevada came back down again after yet another empty UNM possession. All eyes were on Marcus Marshall. The entire gym could have guarded him but you just knew at this point that something special was brewing in Albuquerque that night. It’s what we’ve come to expect out of Eric Musselman’s teams over the years.
Naturally, Marcus Marshall pulled up with a Lobo defender all over him, an incredibly awkward attempt that nailed the backboard before anything else.
Less than 10 seconds later, somehow, New Mexico and Nevada were headed to overtime.
Even despite the jaw-dropping sequence of events, New Mexico didn’t fold in the overtime period. In fact, the Lobos just needed one stop to pick up the victory. Jordan Caroline then drained a three-pointer in the final seconds to give him a career-high 45 on the night and, more importantly, hand the Wolf Pack a 105-104 win at The Pit. It was one of most improbable comebacks in sports history.
What we didn’t know then but have learned since is that you would have to be crazy to count out an Eric Musselman-led Nevada Wolf Pack team. January 7, 2017 was the night that the legend of the Comeback Pack was born and recent returns seem to indicate that the legend isn’t going anywhere.
Nevada has won 58 games since that night, the sixth-highest total in America. Only Gonzaga, Villanova, Kansas, Cincinnati, and Michigan have won more games. Four of those five teams have advanced to the Final Four at least once since 2017.
Though the New Mexico thriller is still mathematically the best comeback by Nevada under Eric Musselman, the Wolf Pack are no longer strangers to these types of come-from-behind performances.
The table below lists each Nevada comeback of ten points or more since the 105-104 stunner. Both of Nevada’s NCAA Tournament wins in March were of a similar fashion.
Almost one in every five Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball victories since has been of the comeback variety. To be exact, ten of Nevada’s 58 wins (17.2 percent) have come when Eric Musselman’s team has trailed by ten or more points. Only Kansas with 12 double-digit comebacks has more in the same span.
January 7, 2017 is a date that will be engraved into the memory of Eric Musselman, Marcus Marshall, Jordan Caroline, Craig Neal, Mountain West followers, college basketball fans, and just about anyone else associated with the game in any way. It’s yet another testament about not giving up until the final buzzer sounds, whether that’s in the literal sense like Nevada’s comeback or in a figurative sense that more closely applies to obstacles of daily life.
“We just didn’t quit,” said Eric Musselman.
Nevada’s win probability hit 0.0 that night in Albuquerque.
The Wolf Pack still won.
Eli Boettger is the lead basketball writer at Mountain West Wire. He’s covered Mountain West basketball since 2015 and his work has been featured on Bleacher Report, NBC Sports, SB Nation, Yahoo Sports, MSN, and other platforms. Boettger is a current USBWA member.