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RENO, Nev. — At times, the BYU men's basketball team looked to be the aggressor Tuesday night in its season opener at Nevada, even taking marginal leads early in the second half on the road.
And at other times, the Wolfpack looked like a top-10 nationally and mid-major preseason dark horse to win a national title.
In the end, the latter Nevada showed up.
Jordan Caroline had 25 points and 16 rebounds, and Caleb Martin added 21 points to help the No. 7-ranked Wolfpack pull away from BYU, 86-70 Tuesday night at Lawlor Events Center in the season opener for both teams.
Former Portland sharpshooter Jazz Johnson scored 12 points on 4-of-9 shooting off the bench for Nevada (1-0), which returned the core trio of Caroline, Martin and Martin’s twin brother Cody Martin from last year’s Sweet 16 squad.
Yoeli Childs led BYU (0-1) with 16 points, 12 rebounds and three assists, and Jahshire Hardnett added a career-high 17 points, four rebounds and three assists for the Cougars.
But BYU shot just 38 percent from the field, netting 26-of-68 field goals including hoisting 6-of-30 from 3-point range.
"We had every chance in the world," BYU coach Dave Rose told KSL Newsradio. "This is one where we will watch and realize we let one get away against a team that is going to have one heck of a season."
BYU trailed by as much as 7-0 early, but rallied to tie the game at 34-34 on freshman Kolby Lee’s layup with one minute left in the half.
BYU held the Wolfpack to just 27 percent shooting in the first half, including 1-of-12 from beyond the arc. Childs had 10 points and nine rebounds to lead the Cougars, who only assisted on six made buckets but out-rebounded Nevada 22-21 on the defensive glass.
"It was a great first game of the season," said Zach Seljaas, who scored eight pints on 3-of-6 shooting including a pair of 3-pointers. "We came out with a big challenge, to play Nevada at their place. But I think it set the tone for how we are going to fight throughout the season. We are going to treat every team like we are playing the No. 7 team in the nation, and we are going to play like we want to be here."
Childs picked up his fourth foul just 50 seconds into the second half, with Nevada holding a 37-36 edge — and even though BYU kept battling, the depth wasn't enough against the trendy Mountain West preseason champions.
Still, the Cougars didn’t immediately go away, even when playing a lineup with several freshmen, including Lee and recently returned missionaries Connor Harding and Gavin Baxter.
"I thought our guys really battled them," said Rose, who announced a contract extension earlier Tuesday keeping him in Provo through the 2020-21 season. "It was a really physical game, and they are long and athletic, and I thought our plan was really good. We executed that plan, and got ourselves into position where we were wide open in transition — and it took us a while to score, but once we got that, we took that nine-point lead and got back in the game.
"Then we battled them on the boards. I thought that would be a real key in the game."
Nevada took a four-point lead, 56-52 on Tre’Shawn Thurman’s 3-pointer with 12 minutes remaining, capping a 9-0 run as the Wolfpack began to heat up from beyond the arc.
But BYU answered right back, when sophomore Rylan Bergersen hit a corner trey to pull the deficit back within two, 59-57 with 9:52 remaining.
But even when Childs made his return to the game, BYU couldn’t muster enough offensive output to stay with a consensus top-10 team nationally. The Cougars shot just 39 percent from the field, including 6-of-27 from 3-point range, and even though Nevada didn’t fire much better, the Wolfpack led for more than 30 minutes of the game.
Childs fouled out with 2:32 remaining, picking up his fifth foul after accumulating 16 points, 12 rebounds and three assists.
The Cougars used the pace to an advantage at Lawlor Events Center, out-racing the Wolfpack 17-7 on the fast break. They also put together 18 points on second-chance buckets and off turnovers, compared to 14 for Nevada.
"We panicked a little bit, and took some shots that were ill-advised," Rose said. "Our game plan of driving that thing in, and sucking them in to kick out, as the game goes on, we didn’t convert — and then guys are trying to do a lot tougher things at the rim.
"It comes down to execution."
BYU hosts in-county rival Utah Valley at 8 p.m. MST Friday night in the Marriott Center.