Malik Story knew his teammates needed him Friday night.
“I knew I had to be more aggressive with Deonte (Burton) out,” the Nevada Wolf Pack senior said. “But we all had to step up and do a little more.”
Story did a little bit more than everyone else, scoring a career-high 35 points as the Wolf Pack held off the stubborn Yale Bulldogs 85-75 at Lawlor Events Center for their fifth consecutive victory.
“I had been struggling recently,” said Story, who was 7-of-24 from the field in his previous two games against Cal state San Marcos and San Francisco and was 12-of-21 against Yale. “We had a couple days off at Christmas and I just focused on my shot and getting a little more aggressive.”
The Wolf Pack needed a focused and aggressive Story against Yale as Burton, who normally plays 30 minutes a game, was held to 16 minutes because of foul trouble. The junior point guard finished with six points, two assists and four fouls.
Story, though, seemed to do whatever was needed with Burton watching more than half the game from the bench. The 6-foot-5 shooting guard drained four 3-pointers, all in the second half, and also contributed a game-high four steals and four assists to go along with four rebounds.
“He’s trying to emphasize more than just his shooting this year,” Pack coach David Carter said. “He’s doing a better job of locking down his man on defense, of getting his teammates involved.”
The Wolf Pack, now 9-4, found itself in a 36-36 tie with the Bulldogs (4-8).
“We seem to play to the level of the competition,” said Story, who had 11 points at halftime, missing all three of his 3-pointers. “But we’ve been in that situation before at halftime when we weren’t playing well. Coach Carter just tells us to stick with the game plan and we’ll come out with the victory.”
The game plan, obviously, was for Story to go out and win the game.
The three-year starter hit a short jumper in the lane for a quick 38-36 lead just nine seconds into the second half. He then drained a three consecutive 3-pointers in a span of just over three minutes with the third giving the Pack a 50-47 lead with 14:14 to play.
He was just getting started.
A lay-up by Story gave the Pack a 54-52 lead and his jumper tied the game at 56-56 with just over 10 minutes to play. Story then got a little help from his teammates as the Pack was finally able to pull away from the Bulldogs in the final 10 minutes.
Freshman Marqueze Coleman converted a three-point play off a Pack fast break and Jordan Burris scored inside off an offensive rebound for a 61-56 lead with 8:27 to go. Kevin Panzer then followed with a 3-pointer from the top of the circle off a pass from Keith Fuetsch for a 64-56 lead with just under eight minutes to go.
The closest Yale would come the rest of the way was four points (66-62 with 5:37 left). Story connected on his fourth and final 3-pointer of the night for a 69-62 lead with 4:54 to go and Jerry Evans banked in a 3-pointer for a 72-62 lead with 4:11 left.
Story added four free throws down the stretch to keep the Bulldogs at arms’ length.
“It wasn’t pretty but we like ugly wins,” Carter said. “Last year we won some ugly games, too. I’d rather have ugly wins than pretty losses.”
The game was a homecoming of sorts for Yale guard Austin Morgan. Morgan, who won two state titles (2006 and 2008) with Reno High at Lawlor Events Center, finished with a team-high 20 points. The 5-foot-11 senior had four 3-pointers, all in the first half.
“I’m always comfortable playing here at Lawlor,” Morgan said. “It was exciting to be able to play in front of family and friends again.”
Morgan’s final 3-pointer tied the game at 28-28 with 4:51 to go in the first half.
“We knew going in that he would play well in front of his family and friends,” Carter said. “He played real well and he played smart.”
Morgan said he had preliminary conversations with former Wolf Pack coach Mark Fox during his senior season at Reno High about playing at Nevada.
“I totally love the Nevada program,” Morgan said. “I grew up coming here to watch games. But Yale was just a better fit for me. It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”
The Wolf Pack will play at Oregon on Monday afternoon (4 p.m.) before opening its first Mountain West season at Air Force on Jan. 9.