The point guard scored in the lane with three seconds left Wednesday night to give the Nevada Wolf Pack an 84-83 victory over the UC Davis Aggies in front of a relieved crowd of 5,892 at Lawlor Events Center.
“Anytime he has the ball in his hands there is no doubt in my mind we’re going to win the game,” smiled Wolf Pack guard Jordan Burris.
Lawlor is clearly becoming The Deonte Events Center. The Wolf Pack is now 4-0 at home this season and Burton has won three of the games in the final minute. He stunned Cal State Fullerton and Green Bay on back-to-back nights on Nov. 16, 17 before doing it again against Davis.
“When it comes down to the end of the game I just know he’s going to pull us through,” senior guard Malik Story said.
Burton wasn’t as sure as his teammates.
“I was nervous,” he said with a smile. “But I knew I had to have the confidence to step up.”
The Pack, 4-2 overall, had their hands full with the now 1-3 Aggies of the Big West Conference. Davis took an 83-82 lead with 16 seconds to go on a 3-pointer by Ryan Sypkens out of the left corner. It was Sypkens’ eighth 3-pointer of the game.
“We were supposed to switch on defense but it didn’t happen,” said Pack coach David Carter. “That’s what I told the guys after the game. I told them, ‘You’re beating yourselves and you are going to find yourself on the other end of the scoreboard if you continue to play this way.”
Davis drained 11-of-20 shots from beyond the arc for the most 3-pointers allowed by the Pack this year.
“We’re just having too many mental breakdowns on defense,” Carter said. “We’re giving up too many easy baskets and too many open shots.”
The Wolf Pack started the game as if they wouldn’t need Burton’s heroics. A 14-1 run, led by five points from Burton and four from Devonte Elliott, gave the Pack a 16-4 lead a little more than six minutes into the game. Davis, though, fought back to take a 33-30 lead on a 3-pointer by Sypkens just nine minutes later.
“We’re just not communicating well on defense,” said Story, who had four 3-pointers and 23 points and now has 73 points over his last three games. “We’re still making too many mistakes on defense.”
The Wolf Pack, though, held off the Aggies well enough to build a 41-36 lead at halftime, their biggest lead at the break of the young season.
But it didn’t last.
A pair of threes by Story gave the Pack leads of 46-40 and 59-56 in the first 10 minutes of the second half. Story then hit a jumper in the lane for a 61-58 lead and Burris had a lay-up off a feed from Burton for a 63-58 lead with just under nine minutes to play.
The Aggies, though, kept coming and actually took leads of 74-73 with 3:24 to go and 79-78 with 1:48 left, each time on a pair of free throws by Paolo Mancasola. The Pack recovered to take an 80-79 lead on a lay-up by Elliott off an assist by Burton and 82-79 on a Story lay-up thanks to Burton’s seventh and final assist of the night with 1:11 to play.
Davis, however, cut the Pack lead to 82-80 on a free throw by J.T. Adenrele and took its 83-82 lead on Sypkens’ eighth and final 3-pointer.
But all that did was set up the Wolf Pack’s version of Groundhog Day. Call it Deonte Day where the Pack keeps waking up in the final minute of a close game and the ball is in Burton’s hands.
Carter called a timeout with 12.7 seconds to play and Burton, once again, did the rest.
“I was just trying to create something,” Burton said. “I was going play by play, move by move in my head.”
Adenrele, the Aggies’ 6-foot-7 forward, moved over to cover Burton near the top of the lane.
“I saw their big guy come over so I just pulled back a little to get a head of steam,” Burton said.
The lane and the basket opened up.
“I was surprised they didn’t double team him,” Carter said. “I thought they would try to get the ball out of his hands.”
Burton, who finished with a game-high 26 points, hit an easy 5-foot floater in the lane for the game-winner.
“When the ball is in his hands we feel very comfortable,” Carter said.
The Wolf Pack, which will host Drake on Friday (7 p.m.), has now won 20 of its last 21 home games and is 130-26 at Lawlor since the start of the 2003-04 season.
“Playing at home in situations like these is huge,” said Carter, whose Pack teams are 44-9 at Lawlor since he took over as head coach in 2009-10. “Like I always say, you have to win your home games. You have to find a way to win at home.
We’re doing it the hard way this year but we’re finding a way.”
And that way, it seems, goes through their junior point guard.
“I might have been a little surprised when he first started doing this,” smiled Story. “But not anymore.”