RENO - Nevada had not one, but two chances to extend its season by at least another game Tuesday night.
One problem. Nevada couldn't get a shot to go in the basket.
The Wolf Pack saw its six-game winning streak at Lawlor Events Center come to an end, as Marcus Cousin's drained a free throw with 26.5 seconds left to give Houston an 80-79 win in the opening round of the first-year College Basketball Invitational.
Nevada concludes its season at 21-12, its fifth straight 20-win season and the fourth under coach Mark Fox. Houston, meanwhile, improved to 23-9, and will face either Washington or Valparaiso next Monday.
An NCAA Tournament game had nothing on this one. The game featured eight ties and an amazing 18 lead changes.
With the score tied at 79, Cousin was trying to follow in a missed shot when he was hammered by JaVale McGee, who fouled out on the play with 26.5 remaining.
Cousin gave the Cougars an 80-79 lead when he dropped in the first shot. He missed the second, giving Nevada a chance to tie or win the game.
Freshman Armon Johnson, who scored 16 points, dribbled between the top of the key and half-court as time ticked furiously down. Johnson drove the lane lofted up a shot that missed, but Ray Kraemer alertly tied up Dion Dowell for a jump ball. The possession arrow favored Nevada with 1.2 left.
Nevada took two timeouts and then Houston took one. Johnson put up a 3-point attempt at the buzzer that clanged off the rim, ending Nevada's season.
"On the second-to-last possession, we ran a high ball screen," Fox said. "We knew they would switch, leaving Armon on one of their big guys. Marcelus (Kemp) was coming off a single screen. The last one we were going to either Marcelus or Armon. They took Marcelus away. We got a good shot, it just didn't go down.
"I was worried about us having enough juice. The crowd really lifted us (in the second half)."
For the first 23 minutes, it looked like Nevada would fall victim to the Cougars' long-distance scoring binge. Houston, which led 43-36 at halftime, threw in 12 3-pointers en route to a 50-40 lead with 17:41 left in the game.
"With their team, their offense is kind of like pickup," Nevada senior guard Marcelus Kemp said. "A lot of their team has a pretty good range. We didn't defend anybody or players like that during the season. It didn't catch us off guard. We were there on some shots, but they were just making their shots (for a while)."
"At the end of the night, our defensive numbers were solid," Fox said. "Nearly half of their shots this year have come from the 3-point line. They were hot from the 3-point line in the first half. They even banked one in at the end of the first half. They are an excellent offensive shooting team. I thought we adjusted well in the second half."
Fox changed to an extended zone, and the Cougars drained only two 3-pointers in the final 17 minutes.
The Pack put together its best run of the night, outscoring the Cougars 20-5 over the next five-plus minutes to grab a 60-55 advantage with 10:55 left.
Kemp scored twice in a one-minute span, slicing the deficit to 50-44. After Cousin scored on a putback, Johnson scored in the key and then McGee whipped a behind-the-back pass to Demarshay Johnson for a slam dunk, bringing the enthusiastic throng of 4,252 to its feet.
Dion Dowell's 3-pointer went in and out on the next possession, and Brandon Fields' 3-pointer (15 points) pulled Nevada to within 52-51, forcing Houston coach Tom Penders to call timeout.
"I called a couple of timeouts," Penders said. "I knew they were going to make a run. They are too good of a team. We tried to mix up our defenses."
Houston turned the ball over out of the timeout, and Armon Johnson converted a three-point play to increase Nevada's lead to 54-52. Dowell, who scored 19, dropped in a 3-pointer to get the lead back for the Cougars, 55-54.
The Pack responded with a 10-5 run, five by Kemp, three by Armon Johnson and two free throws by Malik Cooke for a 64-60 lead. Houston scored five of its own for a 65-64 lead.
The lead changed hands five different times in less than two minutes, the last one coming on Armon Johnson's 3-pointer with 4:56 left that gave the Pack a 71-69 lead.
The lead didn't last long, as Dowell scored on a putback, made two free throws after being fouled by Kemp and then scored on another tip-in to give the Cougars a 75-71 lead.
Fields got Nevada within 77-75 on a jump shot, but Kelvin Lewis got the margin back up to four, 79-75, with a score at the 1:47 mark. McGee scored 14 seconds later and then Kemp tied it at 79 with a lay-up in traffic. Those would be his and Nevada's final points of the season.
Certainly a tough end to the season, and a tough way to go out for Kemp, who ends his career as Nevada's No. 2 all-time scoring with 1,939 points.
"I'm not disappointed with any of my teammates," Kemp said. "Everybody contributed. Everybody played hard. We just didn't get the win tonight, but everybody played hard.
"We have a lot of competitive players. That's what they do, come back and play hard. We didn't do that in the first half."
Indeed. Nevada was unable to slow down the Cougars in the first half, as Robert McKiver scored 15 of his 23 in the first 20 minutes. The Cougars shot 56 percent from the floor in that span.
Nevada slowed the Cougars down quite a bit in the second half, but not enough to get the victory.
"We were just very fortunate to win against an outstanding club," Penders said. "They're an NCAA Tournament team. We felt like we have an outstanding ball club."