It was going to take a serious shift in momentum if Hawaii was going to pull off a victory at UC Irvine tonight.
Consider the momentum shifted with the Rainbow Warriors’ stunning 62-61 win at Bren Events Center, snapping their five-game losing streak as well as the five-game winning streak of the second-place Anteaters.
Sixth-place UH (14-10, 5-6 Big West) led most of the game, lost the lead for the first time with five minutes left, but recaptured it at the free-throw line and survived a desperation 35-foot heave by guard Eyassu Worku on an inbounds pass with 0.4 seconds left.
UH shot just 3-for-24 from the field in the second half (35.2 percent overall) but thrived at the foul line, making 20 of 24 for the game.
Gibson Johnson came out on fire, sticking six of his first seven shots for all of his 13 points in the first half. Sheriff Drammeh also scored 13 and Mike Thomas added 10.
UH converted 10 of its first 15 shots, and finished the first half 16-for-30 to lead for the entire period. They led 39-32 at intermission having committed just two turnovers.
Drew Buggs scored off a Brocke Stepteau steal soon out of the break to keep the momentum going.
Evan Leonard’s 3 tied it up at 49 with 10 minutes left, but Thomas came back with two free throws. UCI tied it up again and Zigmars Raimo scored inside on a feed from Buggs — UH’s last field goal came with 7:29 left — for a 53-51 lead.
John Edgar Jr. put UCI up for the first time, 56-55, on a jumper with 5:06 left. Thomas tied it up on a free throw with 3:30 to go.
A foul call on Drammeh with 2:52 left that would’ve disqualified the UH guard instead went on Jonathan Galloway for his fifth after an official’s change. Drammeh put UH up two at the line and took a charge on Worku at the other end.
Thomas made two at the stripe for a 60-57 lead with 1:30 remaining, answered by two by Irvine.
Thomas missed an open layup with 43.2 seconds left but got the benefit of a call and converted two more. Tommy Rutherford (13 points) scored on a hook shot to stay within one with 35.7 seconds left.
UH was off on a 3 and UCI dribbled up and called timeout with 0.4 seconds left.
Samuta Avea guarded Justin Wertner on the inbounds pass, and he was forced to look away from the rim to Worku, who was deep and well off the mark on his quick fire from the hip.