Nevada’s comeback charms don’t work against Loyola Chicago

Nevada's Elijah Foster (from left), Jordan Caroline, and Josh Hall come to grips with losing by a mere point to Loyola Chicago Thursday night in Philips Arena. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Nevada's Elijah Foster (from left), Jordan Caroline, and Josh Hall come to grips with losing by a mere point to Loyola Chicago Thursday night in Philips Arena. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

There is nothing quite so incomplete as the unfinished comeback.

Nevada, the master of deficit basketball right until the last gasp of its last game, found the one hill too steep to climb Thursday at Philips Arena. But just barely. Its attempt to rally from 12 points down in the second half came up one skinny point short, as the No. 7-seeded Wolf Pack fell to the 11 seed, Loyola Chicago 69-68.

Nevada coach Eric Musselman sounded like a man who very much wanted to keep playing. Asked what Loyola did that prevented his Wolf Pack from coming back as they had in the last week against Texas (from 14 points down) and Cincinnati (from 22 down), he answered, “I mean, we still came back. We were down at one point by 12 and we lost by one, so we came back.

“We had a good look in the corner from Hallice Cooke, who’s one of our best shooters (trailing by one with 48 seconds left). We hit that. . .

“So, we did, we won the second half. We got the game sped up. We scored 44 points in the second half. It was just – we lost a game by one point to a good team.”

Winning the second half served Nevada no practical good Saturday. No trophy is offered for that. And it really matters little when facing a team whose refuse-to-lose mentality was matched only by its refuse-to-miss offense.

Loyola emerged from the half and was relentless in attacking the basket against Nevada. As a reward, it hit its first 13 shots of the second half. It finished the half shooting 75 percent from the field – and a significantly better 88 percent (15 of 17) when counting shots only inside the arc.

“They were patient on offense,” Nevada forward Cody Martin said. “You look at the shot clock and there’s 10 seconds left and you think it’s over and you’re sleeping there for a second. So, they get to the rim or they drive and kick to an open shot. They just ended up getting what they needed at the right time.”

“There’s no doubt about it. I mean, they couldn’t miss,” Musselman said. “Having said that, we still outscored them by three in the second half (still flashing the moot defiance). They do a great job cutting. They do a great job with spacing. And that’s why they’re 31-5.”

Nevada still was able to mostly erase the 12-point second-half deficit, first getting within one with 1:30 left on a three-pointer by Martin’s twin brother, Caleb.

The most significant shot of the night came with seven seconds left, Loyola leading just 66-65, when the Ramblers Marques Townes found himself with a clean look at a corner three. What the comeback has been to Nevada, the clutch last shot has been to the Ramblers. Who doubted it would go in? That’s three tournament victories now by a total of four points for Loyola Chicago.

Caleb Martin, who dribbled down and hit one last 3-pointer in the final second and change and finished with a team-high 21 points, took the fall for Loyola’s last good look.

“I lost Townes late in the game for the kick-out because I was expecting him to backdoor cut that time like he did before,” Martin said. “That time he spaced out more toward the wing. I think I recovered pretty well. I just should have denied the catch.

“One of those things. I just got lost. And it was costly.”

Maybe Nevada – which had led in regulation for all of a combined 128 seconds in its first two tournament games – was disoriented. The Wolf Pack had itself as much as a 12-point lead in the first half Thursday, but seemed uncomfortable with prosperity. It was a team without its theme, until it went scoreless the last 7:55 of the game to put itself back in arrears.

“We played our hearts out and came up a point short. It’s obviously tough for our locker room right now to know that our season is over,” Musselman said.

These were two teams walking the same tournament tightrope, meeting in the middle on a Thursday night in Atlanta. All it took was the slightest of slips, and Nevada had fallen.

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