MOSCOW, Idaho – A key element in Idaho’s mini late-season resurgence has been a sprinkling of contributions from just about everyone. And Wednesday night, the Vandals’ reserves glimmered more than ever.
Unfortunately for Idaho, Nevada’s superb trio of scorers came up even bigger.
Armon Johnson drove the length of the court and converted a three-point play with 2.9 seconds left to propel the Wolf Pack to a stirring 67-66 triumph over the Vandals at Cowan Spectrum.
In front of a national television audience on ESPN2, Idaho mustered an epic rally, coming back from a 16-point deficit in the second half and eventually building a five-point lead inside 5 minutes left.
But Nevada rattled off nine points in the final 38.8 seconds, the final six coming from Johnson. The junior guard finished with 23 points while Luke Babbitt had 21 points and Brandon Fields added 11.
After Johnson’s last-second heroics, UI point guard Mac Hopson fielded a length-of-the- court pass and nudged around a defender. But his open, off-balance 3-pointer at the buzzer clanged off the side of the rim.
The Vandals, who had won three of four, fell to 11-12 and 3-8 in the Western Athletic Conference after their second heartbreaking home loss in the last two weeks. The setback came despite a 6-of-6 showing from the free-throw line the final minute.
Afterward, Idaho coach Don Verlin didn’t hide his distaste for the officiating.
In particular, he was upset that officials didn’t call Babbitt for traveling near midcourt before Johnson’s late 3.
“A poorly officiated game,” Verlin said. “I don’t care if the WAC fines me or not. … I thought it was very, very inconsistent and the WAC office will hear from me tomorrow.
“… We’re no longer a doormat. We’re a contender in this league, and the officials need to figure it out.”
Nevada trailed 62-58 inside 60 seconds left before Babbitt came up with a three-point play. After two free throws from Kashif Watson, Johnson splashed in a 3 from the right wing to tie the game at 64-all.
Hopson then hit two more freebies with 6.2 seconds remaining to set the stage for Johnson’s drive.
The Nevada standout muscled into the lane and drew a foul from Kashif Watson as his layin spun around the rim before falling.
“What’s frustrating is that we did everything we needed to win this game,” Verlin said. “We made free throws, we didn’t turn the ball over.”