RENO - The Nevada Wolf Pack men's basketball team ran out of miracles Saturday night at Lawlor Events Center.
"I thought we could come back and win because you always keep hope alive," Pack point guard Deonte Burton said after a heartbreaking 72-68 loss to the Idaho Vandals that snapped the Wolf Pack's school-record 16-game winning streak.
Burton, who hit an off-balance 3-pointer with 11 seconds to go to give the Pack an emotional 53-52 win over Utah State on Thursday, couldn't steal a Pack victory against the Vandals. He did bank in a 3-pointer to cut Idaho's lead to 69-66 with 18 seconds left but then missed another 3-pointer with 13 seconds left with the Pack trailing 70-66.
"That was kind of a desperation shot," said Pack coach David Carter, whose team is now 19-4 overall and 8-1 in the Western Athletic Conference. "But he has confidence and he's made shots like that before."
Burton also missed a 3-pointer with 23 seconds to go with the Pack trailing 67-63.
"I didn't get the best looks but I was just trying to will my team to a victory," said Burton, who finished with a game-high 18 points.
The Wolf Pack now must be content with sharing the school-record win streak (16) with the 1965-66 Wolf Pack.
"As a coach I tried to keep the guys humble, telling them not to worry about the streak," Carter said. "I hoped they would come out and play each game like it was their last."
It just turned out to be the last game of the streak as the Pack played as if it was certain it had another miracle to spare.
"We didn't have energy," Burton said.
"We didn't come out ready to play," senior forward Olek Czyz said.
Idaho, which led for just 24 seconds of the game's first 27 minutes, took control in the final three minutes. A lay-up and a free throw by Deremy Geiger gave the Vandals a 64-60 lead with 2:22 to play and a jumper and two free throws by Kyle Barone gave Idaho a 69-63 advantage with 22 seconds to play.
"We just couldn't get any stops," Burton said. "They threw the ball in the post when they wanted to, their guys were coming off screens and getting open looks. They did what they wanted to do."
"We came out ready to play them at their house," said Czyz of an easy 73-55 Pack win at Idaho on Jan. 5. "Tonight was a different story."
A pair of free throws by Geiger gave Idaho a 72-66 lead with seven seconds to play. The Vandals shot 60% (12-of-20) in the second half and finished at 52 % for the game. Idaho also drained 46% of its threes (10-of-22).
"We're a better defensive team than we showed tonight," Burton said.
The Wolf Pack also struggled on offense. Senior center Dario Hunt scored just three points on 1-of-4 shooting before fouling out with 22 seconds to play. Hunt finished the two-game home stand against Utah State and Idaho with just five points combined.
Junior guard Malik Story was 2-of-8 from the field (all 3-pointers) against the Vandals.
"Mentally, Malik wasn't into the game," aid Carter, who kept Story on the bench for 10 minutes in the second half in favor of backup Jordan Burris (seven points in 21 minutes). "I tell all my guys, 'You are not good enough to not be focused every game.' He just didn't have good energy."
The Wolf Pack, though, seemed to have plenty of energy in the first half. The Pack took a 35-31 lead at the break as Jerry Evans scored nine points, Czyz had eight and Story had six (on 2-of-5 shooting).
Idaho, though, made its first nine shots in the opening 11 minutes of the second half to take a 53-47 lead with 11:21 left. Evans, though, put back an offensive rebound for a layup and hit a 3-pointer in a span of 27 seconds as the Pack took a 58-57 lead with 6:40 to go.
"When this team gets under five minutes, we always think we can come back and win," Carter said. "We've done it before."
Not this night.
A pair of Burton free throws tied the game at 60-60 with three minutes to play. The Vandals, though, got a free throw by Barone for a 61-60 lead and led the final 2:48.
"Tonight they played like they had nothing to lose," said Czyz of Idaho. "That makes them a very dangerous team."
"They played with confidence, they're well coached, they played well here last year," said Carter, referring to Idaho's 67-59 win at Lawlor last season.
The Wolf Pack, though, still had its chances to win.
Idaho led just 61-60 with 2:31 to play but Story tossed up an air ball on a 3-point attempt. Hunt, though, got the rebound but then promptly threw the ball away right to Geiger, who went the length of the court for a lay-up. Geiger, who finished with 16 points, was fouled by Burton on the lay-up and the 5-foot-11 guard calmly sank the free throw for a 64-61 lead with 2:06 left.
The loss was the Pack's first setback in over two months, since a 76-55 loss to BYU in suburban Chicago.
The Lawlor crowd of 7,349 -- the second largest of the year behind Thursday's 9,988 -- saw the Pack's 12-game home winning streak come to an end (they are now 12-2 at Lawlor this year).
"Just the loss itself hurts," Burton said. "I really didn't care about the streak and all that. All I cared about all along was just going out and getting a win."
The Wolf Pack, Czyz said, will remember what Saturday night felt like the rest of the season.
"It feels terrible," Czyz said. "This is unacceptable. We are going to take this feeling going forward in the rest of our WAC games and we don't want to have this feeling again."