RENO, Nev. — The chance to play close to his home Wednesday is "kind of exciting" for Phil Fayne.
What wouldn't thrill the 6-foot-9 junior forward is a repeat performance from Illinois State's basketball team of last Saturday's uninspiring effort at Redbird Arena.
“We need to get ourselves together, stay on track and focus better so we don't have nights like we did the other night,” said Fayne, referring to a 64-62 overtime loss to Charleston Southern.
ISU (3-3) might be facing its toughest opponent all season when it meets Nevada (6-0) at what figures to be a rowdy atmosphere at the Lawlor Events Center. The 9 p.m. CST game is part of the Mountain West/Missouri Valley Challenge.
The Wolf Pack just missed cracking the Associated Press Top 25 rankings this week. Nevada features a lineup that looks like a bunch of clones who are all 6-foot-7 and extremely athletic.
“It's not just their height, but they're unbelievably long,” said ISU coach Dan Muller. “Their starting 4 man (power forward Cody Martin) is also their backup point guard. They have a lot of interchangeable parts. They're really good at both ends.”
The game will be streamed live on Facebook Watch using the following link: https://www.facebook.com/StadiumCollegeBasketball/videos/781231822063576/
Fayne will have his own personal rooting section. He grew up in Elk Grove, Calif., which is about 140 miles west of Reno on Interstate 80.
“A lot of my family is going to be there,” said Fayne. “It's pretty cool to be playing in front of my parents (Phillip Sr. and Jackie) and cousins and family members. They've been watching me and following me and supporting me a lot on TV.”
Fayne has done everything asked of him thus far. He is ISU's second-leading scorer (16.8 points per game) and leads the team in rebounds (7.5), steals (2.0) and blocked shots (1.7).
The Redbirds have shown they can beat good teams. ISU downed South Carolina and Tulsa in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Classic at Myrtle Beach.
But against Charleston Southern, which was picked to finish eighth in the Big South Conference, several Redbirds looked disinterested.
“You talk to everybody as a whole that we need to get ourselves together,” said Fayne. “Our preparation needs to be better.”
ISU junior forward Milik Yarbrough, who drew raves from ESPN announcers for his all-around game during the Redbirds' two victories in Myrtle Beach, played only 14 minutes against Charleston Southern. His final stat line: two points, two assists and one rebound.
“I'm not going to change our standard in what I'm looking for. As they say, I'm trying to win the war and not the battle,” said Muller. “I know what this team needs for long-term success this year. Those are the habits I'm trying to form right now.
“Unfortunately, we probably lost a game because of it. In the long run, if it changes habits, it will be worth it. If it doesn't it's going to be a long year.”
Muller wasn't sure how much freshman point guard Elijah Clarance would play against Nevada.
Clarance came back against Charleston Southern after missing the first five games with a stress fracture in his foot. He played three minutes in the first half and wasn't used after halftime. However, Clarance was suffering from severe blisters and didn't reinjure his foot.
“It sounds like it's not a big deal when you say blisters, but he has new orthotics and hadn't done anything in forever. We have to get those under control,” said Muller.
Trying to get Nevada under control will be difficult. The Wolf Pack averages 84.3 points per game — with four players averaging in double figures — and shoots 41.6 percent outside the arc.
Forward Jordan Caroline, who played his freshman year at Southern Illinois, and guard Lindsey Drew are returning starters from last season when the Wolf Pack won the Mountain West Conference regular-season and tournament titles before losing to Iowa State in the NCAA Tournament.
Nevada has been bolstered by three transfers who sat out last season. Twins Caleb and Cody Martin came from North Carolina State and have joined Caroline in the front line, while 6-7 guard Kendall Stephens played three years at Purdue.
The Wolf Pack scored at least 81 points in each of their first five victories. They went to Hawaii on Friday and grinded out a 67-54 victory.
“We didn't shoot the ball like we normally do or play at the same pace, but I thought our defense was phenomenal holding them under 40 percent from the field,” said Nevada coach Eric Musselman.