Wolf Pack out in second round of NIT | NevadaAppeal.com

Wolf Pack out in second round of NIT

Joe Santoro
For the Nevada Appeal

KINGSTON, R.I. — The Rhode Island Rams simply would not allow Luke Babbitt and Armon Johnson to beat them Monday afternoon.

Babbitt and Johnson combined to miss 21 of their 28 shots as the Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball team fell to the Rams, 85-83, Monday afternoon in the second round of the National Invitation Tournament.

The Pack, which ends its season at 21-13, trailed for much of the game but did pull within 85-83 with five seconds to go on a 3-pointer by Brandon Fields. Rhode Island, now 25-9, killed off the final five seconds as the Pack was unable to foul.

Babbitt tied his season low with 14 points. The sophomore, though, was just 2-of-14 from the field and turned the ball over five times. Babbitt, who did have five assists, scored the majority of his points (10-of-10) from the free throw line.

Johnson wasn’t much better, scoring 13 points on just 5-of-14 shooting.

Fields led the Pack with 28 points on 10-of-18 shooting in the last game of his college basketball career.

Joey Shaw, also playing his final college game, added 12 points for the Pack and Dario Hunt had seven. Marko Cukic had seven points off the bench and Douglas High graduate Keith Olson had two. Ray Kraemer was held scoreless.

Rhode Island, now 15-2 at home this year, was led by Delroy James, who scored a career-high 34 points. Keith Cothran added 16 points for the Rams of the Atlantic-10 Conference.

The second-seeded Rams (the Pack was a sixth seed) took a 42-37 halftime lead as James scored 14 points.

The Rams’ biggest lead of the opening half was 10 (36-26) as Ben Eaves hit a 3-pointer with five minutes to go.

The Wolf Pack, though, went on an 11-1 run to tie the game at 37-37 a minute before halftime.

Fields keyed the Pack run, scoring eight consecutive points to wipe out a 37-29 Rhode Island lead. Fields banked in a 3-pointer from about 22 feet out, drove the lane for a layup (after Lamonte Ulmer blocked a Hunt shot almost back to mid-court) and tied the game with a another layup with a minute to go before halftime.

Fields led the Pack with 14 first-half points.

Rhode Island scored the final five points of the half to take a 42-37 lead at the intermission. Will Martell had a pair of free throws and Stevie Mejia drained a 3-pointer with five seconds to go for the lead at the break.

The lead changed hands seven times in the first six minutes. James, who had 14 points in the first half, hit his first of three 3-pointers in the first half for a 3-2 Rams’ lead a minute into the game. Johnson hit a short jumper, and Hunt and Fields each had dunks as the Pack took leads of 4-3, 6-5 and 8-7.

The Pack, which beat Wichita State, 74-70, on the road on Wednesday in the first round of the NIT, had no trouble early in the game breaking the Rams’ defensive pressure, scoring its first 14 points in the paint.

Rhode Island took a 16-10 lead on a 3-pointer by James and a short jumper by Martell. Fields, though, responded with a another dunk off a long in-bounds pass from Babbitt and Shaw scored in the lane to cut the deficit to 16014.

Ulmer, who had seven rebounds in the first half, scored inside twice off of offensive rebounds to give the Rams a 33-24 lead with seven minutes to go in the first half.

Babbitt, who missed all six of his field goal attempts in the first half, scored his first points of the game on a pair of free throws just 6:45 before halftime. Babbitt’s second pair of free throws cut Rhode Island’s lead to 36-29 with 2:41 left in the half.

The Wolf Pack made 14 of its 27 shots in the first half (.519) and owned a 22-14 advantage on the boards despite trailing by five. The Pack outrebounded the Rams, 42-32, for the game.

The Rams were 7-of-17 on 3-pointers in the first half. James was 3-of-4 from long distance. Rhode Island finished 9-of-25 on 3-pointers for the game.

The Wolf Pack turned the ball over 10 times in the first half (16 for the game) compared to just two turnovers for Rhode Island (none in the second half).

James’ fourth 3-pointer of the game gave Rhode Island a 51-43 lead with 16:46 to play. James also had four free throws in the first four minutes of the second half.

Marko Cukic, playing extended minutes because Hunt picked up his fourth foul with 15:47 to go, kept the Pack close early in the second half.

Cukic converted a three-point play to cut the Rams’ lead to 51-46 with 16:03 to play and scored inside to cut the deficit to 53-50 with 14:03 to go.

The Rams stayed in front (57-50 with 13:40 to go) midway through the second half thanks to an offensive rebound and layup by Martell and a coast-to-coast layup by Cothran.

A pair of free throws by Martell gave Rhode Island a 59-50 lead with 13:17 to go.

James converted a layup around Babbitt for a 61-50 lead with 11 minutes to play. He added a 3-pointer just 30 seconds later for a 64-50 lead, capping an 11-0 run by the Rams.

James scored his 30th point of the game on a dunk for a 66-54 lead with 9:15 to play.

Babbitt’s first field goal of the game (after 10 misses) came with nine minutes to play and cut the Rams lead to 66-56.

The Pack, despite Babbitt’s and Johnson’s struggles in the game’s first 30 minutes, refused to go away.

Babbitt’s first field goal and a 3-point play by Johnson cut Rhode Island’s lead to 66-59 with just under eight minutes to go. Babbitt also hit two more free throws because of a technical foul on Rhode Island to pull the Pack within 66-61.

A layup by Shaw off a feed from Fields cut Rhode Island’s lead to 70-64 with 6:15 to go. But Eaves hit a jumper from the left corner and James had a layup off a pass from Martell as the Rams increased their lead back up to 10 (74-64) with 4:40 to go.

The Pack, though, again refused to go away.

A pair of free throws by Fields and a jumper by Johnson sliced the Rams’ lead to 74-68 with 3:25 left. Babbitt’s second field goal of the game, inside off the glass, cut the deficit to just 74-70 with 2:15 left.

A layup by Ulmer and a free throw by Martell gave Rhode Island 77-70 lead with 1:26 left but Fields responded with two free throws to cut the Rams’ lead to 77-72 with 1:18 to go.

A pair of free throws each by Johnson and Babbitt cut Rhode Island’s lead to 83-78 with 29 seconds to go. Babbitt drained two more free throws with 15 seconds to go to cut the deficit to just 84-80.

The Pack pulled within 85-83 on a 3-pointer by Fields with 5.2 seconds to go.

Rhode Island kept the Pack in the game in the final minute, missing four free throws.