Armon Johnson, Luke Babbitt lift Pack into WAC finals
RENO ” Armon Johnson scored 18 of his 24 points in the second half and freshman Luke Babbitt added 23 as Nevada came back from an early 12-point deficit to defeat Louisiana Tech 77-68 Friday night and advance to the finals of the Western Athletic Conference’s basketball tournament.
Lyndale Burleson and Brandon Fields each added nine points and two steals for the second-seeded Wolf Pack (21-11), who opened the second half with an 11-2 run to take their first lead of the game then put together a 12-1 run late in the game to help secure the win.
They will play Saturday night against top-seeded Utah State (29-4), which beat New Mexico State 71-70 in Friday night’s other semifinal.
Kyle Gibson had 25 points and Magnum Rolle 24 for the sixth-seeded Bulldogs (15-18), who led by as much as 21-9 midway through the first half and 35-31 at halftime but shot only 28 percent from the field the second half.
Johnson, a sophomore, had six rebounds and six assists to go with his 10-of-16 shooting from the field.
Babbitt, who had a career-high 30 points in a win over San Jose State Thursday night, made 8 of 13 field goals, all seven of his free throw attempts and grabbed six rebounds. The two Reno prep stars played against each other in high school.
Johnson scored eight points during an 11-2 run that began and ended with his two 3-pointers to give Nevada a 42-37 lead with 17:17 left in the game.
Babbitt followed a basket inside with a spinning baseline 12-footer to give Nevada a 50-45 lead at 12:32. But Gibson drove for a bucket then hit a 3-pointer to pull within 50-48 at 12:06.
Back-to-back baskets by Johnson pushed the lead to 58-52 at 8:24.
Rolle made two free throws and Gibson scored on a drive to make it 58-46 at 7:10. But Nevada went on the 12-1 run that included two Burleson 3-pointers to go up 70-57 with 3:30 on the clock.
Olu Ashaolu, who had eight points and 11 rebounds for the Bulldogs, slammed home a dunk on an offensive rebound and Gibson made two free throws to cut Nevada’s lead to 70-62 with 2:27 left. But Babbitt scored inside and he and Johnson each made two free throws down the stretch to seal the win.
Rolle scored 13 of the Bulldogs’ first 17 points and had 15 in the first half. His slam dunk with 12:25 left put the Bulldogs up 17-9 and they stretched the lead to 21-9 on baskets by Brandon Gibson and David Jackson.
Nevada rallied with a 22-11 run to close to within a point at 32-31 on a steal and layup by Johnson with 58 seconds left, but Kyle Gibson hit a 3-pointer with 6 seconds for the 35-32 halftime lead.
A pair of injuries likely cost the Bulldogs at least 4 points during a pair of key stretches in the game.
Brandon Gibson was all alone on a fast break with 15 minutes remaining, but crumpled to the ground with a left knee injury and was helped to the locker room. He returned to the bench later on crutches.
Ashaolu also had to leave the game with less than 8 minutes remaining when he apparently was kicked in the face while on the ground. The Bulldogs were on a 3-on-1 fast break at the time on the other end of the floor, but the officials stopped play before they could score.
Saturday’s finals is scheduled for 7 p.m.
NEVADA 77, LOUISIANA TECH 68
LOUISIANA TECH (15-18)
Guyton 1-10 1-2 3, Ashaolu 3-7 2-3 8, Rolle 8-12 8-12 24, K.Gibson 7-13 7-8 25, Loe 2-6 0-0 4, B.Gibson 1-3 0-0 2, Rogers 0-1 0-0 0, Berhe 0-1 0-0 0, Jackson 1-3 0-0 2, Oliverson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-56 18-25 68.
Burleson 3-4 0-1 9, Babbitt 8-13 7-7 23, Cooke 2-5 0-0 5, Johnson 10-16 2-2 24, Hunt 3-5 0-0 6, Fields 4-9 1-2 9, Shaw 0-2 0-0 0, A.Phillips 0-0 1-2 1. Totals 30-54 11-14 77.
Halftime”Louisiana Tech 35-31. 3-Point Goals”Louisiana Tech 4-18 (K.Gibson 4-9, Loe 0-1, Jackson 0-2, Guyton 0-6), Nevada 6-14 (Burleson 3-4, Johnson 2-3, Cooke 1-2, Shaw 0-1, Babbitt 0-1, Fields 0-3). Fouled Out”None. Rebounds”Louisiana Tech 37 (Ashaolu 11), Nevada 30 (Babbitt, Johnson 6). Assists”Louisiana Tech 7 (K.Gibson 4), Nevada 12 (Johnson 6). Total Fouls”Louisiana Tech 16, Nevada 21. A”7,397.
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