A wild final sequence made for an instant classic on national television between two old conference rivals.
Roderick Bobbitt answered Marqueze Coleman’s late layup with a last-second one of his own, and Hawaii outdueled Nevada for a heart-stopping 76-75 victory in the ESPN College-Hoops Tip-off Marathon and claimed the Outrigger Resorts Rainbow Classic title early this morning.
The hotly contested game at the Stan Sheriff Center started at 11 p.m. Monday night and was broadcast on ESPN2.
First-year UH coach Eran Ganot takes pride in knowing the history of both his program and the Rainbow Classic, which used to be one of the best nonconference tournaments in the country before it adopted a four-team round-robin format in recent years.
“I told the team this after, they witnessed one of the great games in the history of this program on a tremendous stage,” Ganot said. “A championship game, one of the great events in the history of events. … We have a tremendous past and a great tradition, and these guys added to the legacy.”
Coleman scored 32 of his career-high 34 points in the second half, including different stretches of 11 and 10 straight points for the Wolf Pack. UH was led by Aaron Valdes’ 19 points. Bobbitt, Quincy Smith and Sai Tummala added 10 points apiece for the Rainbow Warriors. Isaac Fleming had nine points and four steals.
UH withstood some shaky free-throw shooting — 14-for-27 — and improved to 3-0 on the season for the first time since 2012. Nevada, a former regular UH opponent in the teams’ days in the WAC, dropped to 2-1 despite going 23-for-26 at the line.
Bobbitt was named tournament MVP. Valdes and Tummala were also named to the all-tournament team.
After Coleman scored on a drive with 5.7 seconds left for a one-point Wolf Pack lead, Bobbitt received the ball near midcourt and jetted up with a full head of steam. His scoop shot kissed off the glass and in with 1.4 seconds to go as Bobbitt, riding full momentum, fell and caromed into the stanchion. He got back up and screamed in jubilation as he ran down the court. The rowdy “Blackout” crowd of 2,143 erupted.
The lead changed hands 15 times in all, and five times in the final 1:03 alone.
“It was a battle out there. They got back in the game and took the lead late and we just had to keep our composure,” Bobbitt said.
UH was out of timeouts once Coleman put the Pack up 75-74.
“The only thing we said, basically (to the players was) we had to get a stop, we didn’t, and we did talk to our team and say hey, if it’s a make, we’re gone (up the court),” Ganot said. “We didn’t have any timeouts left. … You try to practice those situations, but I’ll say this, give our boys credit. Players make coaches look good a lot of times.”
The usually stoic Bobbitt cracked a few smiles in the postgame press conference with the tournament trophy on the podium.
“Just try to get downcourt as fast as I can,” Bobbitt said of his strategy on the winning play. “I figured they would celebrate after (their basket). I don’t know if they did; I had no intentions of seeing what was going on with them. I just wanted to get to the basket as fast as I could. Mike (Thomas) inbounded it to me and I just took off. Thank God I made that layup.”
Nevada called timeout to draw up a desperation play. Coleman got an attempt up a little past midcourt, but it was well short, and the Rainbows mobbed each other on the floor.
“Man, that was the first time that’s ever happened to me,” said Bobbitt, a senior co-captain. “That’s my team, family, a great experience, a great memory, and a great way to start the season.”
It looked for a while like UH squandered a game it controlled most of the way. The Rainbows led by 16 in the second half but saw the margin trimmed as the Wolf Pack put the ball in the hands of its point guard Coleman and let him go to work.
Many times, Coleman received a high ball screen, put his head down and drove to the basket. His shots would either drop through, or he’d earn a trip to the free-throw line, where he was 15-for-18.
UH had trouble stopping the athletic Nevada point guard, and had even more trouble converting its own attempts at the stripe.
“You’re talking almost a 10-point difference in a close game,” Ganot said. “Obviously we gotta keep on working on it. … That did come back to bite us. The combination of Coleman and us missing free throws … it’s now a recurring theme. It’s not a one-game deal. It’s going to be a continued point of emphasis.”
There was a minor verbal altercation between UH guard Isaac Fleming and the Nevada bench at the buzzer, raising the ire of Wolf Pack coach Eric Musselman. Nevada players initially walked through one of the Sheriff tunnels off the court without shaking hands, but eventually returned to the handshake line with their coaches.
Musselman and the Pack departed the arena quickly before they could be interviewed.
“Muss and I have known each other a long time, and there’s a lot of respect there,” Ganot said. “During the game there was a lot going back and forth, jawing between (players). There were moments the refs had to come in in a heated game. Something happened at the end of the game. The bottom line is (Musselman and I) talked about it. Communication’s always going to be clear between us. We can always talk to each other.”
UH used its opportunistic defense and a strong bench effort from Tummala to build a 12-point halftime lead.
The Rainbows kept it going early in the second half. Bobbitt got a floater to drop from the baseline to end a four-minute scoring drought and give UH a 48-36 lead with under 12 minutes to play.
Coleman ignited a 7-0 run to get the Pack within 52-45 with under 10 minutes left.
Nevada got within five, but Quincy Smith rebounded his own miss and went back up for a three-point play and eight-point lead with eight minutes remaining.
Then it was the Coleman show. He propelled the Pack back into it, and the visitors finally claimed a lead, 64-63, on an elbow jumper by D.J. Fenner (16 points) with 3:50 to play.
Bobbitt and Stefan Jankovic each made a free throw to put UH back up momentarily.
Coleman, who missed almost all of the first half with foul trouble, was well rested. After he and Isaac Fleming were issued double technicals for jawing at each other, Coleman stuck a deep 3-pointer and drew a foul from Valdes. The guard started talking to the crowd, then stepped up and hit the free throw for the rare four-point play with 2:36 left, giving the Pack a 68-65 lead.
“Frustrating out there with all the foul calls,” Valdes said. “We just gotta work through it. A little less talking, I know I myself have to do it. But we fought through it. Enough can’t be said about Rod right here, playing with four fouls. Just going all out the whole game. He probably played the most minutes in this tournament. You know he’s tired out there, but he gave it his all. Everybody on our team gave it our all.”
Bobbitt played 116 of 120 possible minutes in UH’s three tournament wins.
Jankovic hit two free throws and Bobbitt collected an open court turnover by Coleman and dished it to Valdes for a basket and a 69-68 UH advantage.
Pack forward Cameron Oliver and Jankovic traded inside baskets, a dunk for Oliver and a nifty spin move inside for Jankovic.
Coleman drove to the rim again for a one-point lead with 54.4 seconds left. Bobbitt tried to answer, but his shot rolled off the rim. Coleman was fouled and made one of two for a 73-71 lead, fouling out Jankovic with 30.9 seconds left.
Coming out of a timeout, Valdes dropped the ball off inside to Mike Thomas, who put it in off the glass and got fouled. The junior forward completed the clutch three-point play with 15.9 seconds to go.
Coleman then stepped up one more time, crossing over Smith and driving to the front of the cup for two more and Nevada’s final lead. He finished shooting 9-for-14 with no assists and five turnovers. His point total was the highest for a Wolf Pack player since the 2011 WAC tournament.
“He’s a power guard, and a heck of a competitor,” Ganot said. “That’s why, with maybe three or four minutes to go, we went zone to try to do something different. Because it wasn’t working.”
Coleman went out of the game after four minutes with his second foul. The Pack’s ball handling was suspect from there, as they committed 11 first-half turnovers.
Tummala capped off a monster first half by cooly draining a 3 in the face of the brash Cameron Oliver (eight points, 13 rebounds) with 55 seconds left in the period.
On the final possession of the half, Fleming drove baseline, got his shot blocked fading away, but picked the pocket of Tyron Criswell and stuck a hanging lefty shot at the buzzer for a 40-28 UH lead.
Fleming pointed past the Wolf Pack bench and to one of the most vocal sections of UH fans on his way to the tunnel.
It was the eighth straight year UH competed in the nationally televised College Hoops Tip-off Marathon. UH improved to 5-3 in those games.