Even with NCAA loss, Wolf Pack has season we'll always remember

Twenty-eight wins helped connect 2016-2017 team in special way with community

3/20/2017 | By: John Trent |

The game on Thursday night during the first round of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament against Iowa State had so many earmarks of the Wolf Pack's 2016-2017 campaign, a season that had featured more than a few improbable late second-half comebacks, that it seemed like the impossible might happen yet again.

Playing at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisc., Iowa State's sharp-shooting backcourt had pulled the Cyclones to a 15-point lead in the first half of the Wolf Pack's first NCAA appearance in a decade.

Then the Wolf Pack did what it always had done during the course of an exhilarating 28-win season - which is tied for the second-most wins in program history. The Wolf Pack, behind Cameron  Oliver (22 points for the game), Jordan Caroline (20) and Marcus Marshall (16) battled back, pulling to 55-51 with a little less than 10 minutes remaining in the game.

Although Iowa State then pulled away for the victory, 84-73, and the Wolf Pack's season had come to a close, there was no denying what had transpired in 2016-2017 was something special.

Nevada won its first-ever Mountain West Conference (MWC) regular season title at Lawlor Events Center before a sold-out crowd against Colorado State on March 4, and earned its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2007 by capturing the MWC Tournament title in Las Vegas with another victory over Colorado State on March 11.

Marshall (the MWC's Newcomer of the Year) earned first team All-MWC honors while Oliver, Caroline and senior D.J. Fenner were all named to the second team.

And with 52 victories over his first two seasons, the Pack's fiery head coach, Eric Musselman, had re-connected the program with the community in a way that was perhaps unprecedented. Musselman literally wore his emotions on his own sleeve - that is, when he was actually clothed.

To celebrate the Pack's unlikely College Basketball Invitational championship last March, Musselman had torn off his dress shirt and donned a championship T-shirt. He did pretty much the same thing following the Pack's Mountain West Conference Tournament victory in Las Vegas. Musselman's wife, Danyelle, even came up with a hashtag for Musselman's celebratory championship actions: "#nakedmuss."

Said the coach who cared a great deal about a team that played with an equal measures of care and passion (as quoted by the Reno Gazette-Journal Pack beat writer Chris Murray): "All you ask your student-athletes to do is play hard and really care. And that locker room really cares."

It was that type of season. One where joyful highlights - such as an amazing 25-point second-half comeback on the road against New Mexico on Jan. 7, the program's first-ever victory over perennial MWC power San Diego State, a dominating season sweep over in-state rival UNLV - clearly overshadowed the season's seven losses.

As Fenner told the RGJ's Murray following Thursday's game: "We accomplished a lot. Not only did we hang a few more banners and get a ring, we were able to give hope to the community."


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