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March 16, 2007
Paying too much attention to Nick Fazekas is a gamble when trying to stop Nevada.
Marcelus Kemp, Ramon Sessions and Kyle Shiloh gave the Wolf Pack just enough balance to overcome a gritty performance from Creighton and lift Nevada to a 77-71 overtime victory in a first-round South Regional game Friday.
"I didn't have any doubts at all that Marcelus and Shiloh and Ramon could take over, and that's what they did," Fazekas said. "It's just good we got one under our belt now."
With Fazekas off his game, Kemp capped a 27-point performance with nine points in overtime, sparing Nevada from another early exit in the NCAA Tournament.
Nevada (29-4), bounced by Montana in last year's opening round, needed Kemp to score nine points above his average to move into a second-round matchup against second-seeded Memphis (31-3) on Sunday.
Fazekas, the Western Athletic Conference's player of the year, had his second-worst shooting performance of the season and fouled out with 3:06 left in overtime. The senior still finished with 17 points, but was 5-of-13 from the field and not his usual dominant self.
Sessions scored 16 and Shiloh 10 for the seventh-seeded Wolf Pack, who also outrebounded Creighton 48-31.
"On this team, we have a lot of different options and everybody plays well when other guys are out," Kemp said. "I knew as we could do it without Nick. He has confidence in us to go without him, and we did that."
Nate Funk led Creighton with 23 points, but he began to lose his range late in the game and lost his handle on the ball as he missed a jumper in the final seconds of regulation that might have won it. Fellow seniors Nick Porter and Anthony Tolliver each added 15 for the Blue Jays (22-11) in what turned out to be their final appearance for a Creighton team that was playing in its second NCAA tournament in three years.
"We had a chance to win at the end of regulation, but it just didn't happen," Funk said. "They outplayed us in the overtime period. They rebounded and made plays. We didn't."
Creighton also struggled from long range, going 3-of-19 on 3-pointers. Dane Watts, who came in averaging 10.1 points, was 0-for-8 from long range and 1-for-12 overall.
"We took a couple of questionable shots and couldn't get a rebound," Creighton coach Dana Altman said. "We didn't get the production from our bench this year that we have had in previous years. I'm not sure if that was the reason we couldn't get a rebound the last 3 minutes of the game or not."
Kemp finished with 12 rebounds. When Fazekas was in foul trouble in the second half and later left the game in overtime, JaVale McGee came on and asserted himself underneath. He had five rebounds in only 9 minutes of action.
"I was really disappointed to see Nick walk off the floor with his fifth foul in a tight ballgame. But I have confidence in all of these kids and we've been in that situation before. So we didn't panic," Nevada coach Mark Fox said. "We kept playing, and JaVale was certainly a big key to the game."
Creighton, which forced 19 Nevada turnovers, has relied heavily on its defense all season, and that's what had them in position to win in regulation. The Blue Jays converted steals into fast-break layups on three consecutive possessions and led 57-52 with a little more than 5 minutes to go.
Kemp stopped Nevada's slide with a tough leaner off the glass. His jumper pulled the Wolf Pack to 59-57, and Fazekas tied it with a jumper with 2:25 left.
Neither team scored again until overtime, which Kemp opened with a basket inside. He also had a 3-pointer that put Nevada up 66-62.
Both teams' premier big men were in foul trouble midway through the second half.
Creighton had to sub out Tolliver, its 6-foot-9 center, after Fazekas suckered him into his fourth foul on a missed 3-point attempt with 9:38 to go, prompting Altman to crouch down with his hand over his eyes.
A minute later, however, the 6-foot-11 Fazekas was called for his fourth, whistled for a charge as he tried to back his way toward the hoop.
Creighton, a mediocre shooting team that routinely forces a low-scoring tempo, succeeded in slowing down Fazekas and Nevada in the first half.
The Wolf Pack shot nearly 49 percent and averaged about 78 points this season, but managed only 41 percent shooting in the opening 20 minutes.
Funk was effective pulling up off the drive on mid-range jumpers and his turnaround ignited a 10-0 run, resulting in 30-25 Blue Jays lead.
Nevada didn't get a decent look near the basket for the last 5 minutes of the half, but was able to close to 32-31 by halftime with 3-pointers by Kemp and Shiloh, the last one from well behind the arc as the shot clock expired.