Fields’ 3-pointer downs Eastern Washington 73-70
RENO – Brandon Fields saved the best for last Thursday night.
“I missed my first five threes,” the Wolf Pack senior said. “But I hit one when it counted.”
A wide-open Fields drained a 3-pointer from the right corner with 4.3 seconds to play as the Pack survived a scare from the Eastern Washington Eagles, 73-70, at Lawlor Events Center.
“That’s the best feeling in basketball,” Fields said. “Hitting a game-winner. I was blessed.”
Fields’ shot, in front of 4,713 fans, kept the Wolf Pack unbeaten at home (5-0) and lifted the team over .500 (5-4) for the first time in a month (when they were 2-1). “We owe it all to Brandon,” said sophomore Luke Babbitt, who scored a season-high 29 points. “If it wasn’t for him we might still be out there playing.”
The Big Sky Conference Eagles (4-6) gave the Pack its toughest test at Lawlor this season.
“That was good for us in a way,” junior guard Armon Johnson said. “We had to respond to some adversity. They came in here and knocked us in the mouth and we had to respond to it.”
The Pack had won its first four home games by an average of 17 points.
“It was a conference-like game, a conference-like atmosphere,” Fields said. “Winning a game like this will help us down the road.”
The Eagles and Wolf Pack found themselves tied 15 times and the lead changed hands seven times. The biggest lead of the game belonged to the Pack at 61-53 with 6:21 to play.
“We’re going to learn from this game,” Pack coach David Carter said. “In a game like this every possession, every shot counts. You have to take every possession seriously. This was a big learning lesson for us.”
The Pack led 37-35 at halftime thanks to 19 points from Babbitt, all in the final 15:28. The 6-foot-8 forward scored on five separate occasions to tie the game (at 10, 17, 25, 29 and 31).
“Luke carried us in the first half,” Carter said. “I could sense it from the start that he was going to be more aggressive (offensively). You can just kind of feel it when he gets in that groove.”
It was Fields, though, (in a sign of things to come) who drove the lane for a layup with 23 seconds to play in the half to give the Pack its two-point lead at the intermission. “We had a lot of respect for this team,” said Babbitt, who fell one point short of his career high (30 against San Jose State on March 12 of last season). “But we have to bring a better mentality into games like this and knock teams out early.”
The Eagles kept getting off the canvas after all of the Pack punches. Eastern Washington outscored the Pack 17-9 over a five-minute stretch, thanks to two 3-pointers by Kevin Winford and one each by Mark Dunn and Benny Valentine, to tie the game at 70 with 1:20 to play.
“They made a lot of tough shots,” said Johnson, who had a dozen points to go along with his eight assists. “I have a lot of respect for them.”
The Pack, which will host Wagner Saturday night (7:05 p.m.), found itself in that 70-all tie mainly because of 1-of-12 shooting from 3-point range.
“We were taking good looks,” Carter said. “You just have to continue to shoot the ball. Brandon is a good example of that. He was 0-for-5.”
The Pack got the ball back with 26 seconds to play after Eastern Washington’s Valentine tossed up a prayer 3-pointer from 30 feet out as the shot clock expired.
“The (game-winning) play was designed to go inside to Luke,” Carter said.
Babbitt, though, set a screen for Fields who suddenly found himself wide open in the right corner.
“Luke set a great screen and Armon found me,” Fields said.
And the guy with the 0-for-5 performance from 3-point range didn’t hesitate to risk an 0-for-6.
“After he shot it I think he went like this,” said a smiling Carter as he put his hands together in front of his chest as if Fields was praying for help from above.
It turns out he didn’t need help. All he needed was that sixth attempt.
“I was confident it would go in,” Fields said, smiling.
A final shot by Eastern Washington’s Glen Dean fell short at the buzzer.
“We didn’t want to leave any time left on the clock,” Carter said. “But Brandon was wide open. And if Armon would have gone inside to Luke, he (Babbitt) would have taken a couple more steps and killed off a couple more seconds.” “I was just excited it went down,” Johnson said.