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Shaver, Akot fuel Boise State past Nevada 85-70

Syndication: Reno Gazette Journal JASON BEAN/RGJ / USA TODAY NETWORK

Despite a two-week absence due to COVID-19 issues within the program — a problem plaguing the majority of teams nationally, including Nevada — the Boise State Broncos thrashed the Nevada Wolf Pack 85-70 on the road Wednesday, doing so with the help of dominant play from guards Marcus Shaver Jr. and Emmanuel Akot.

Both accounted for eight of its nine 3-pointers, 60 percent of its scoring production while both notched season-high point totals.

Shaver Jr. tallied a game-high 28 points — his career-high with the Broncos and two off from tying his career-best mark set in 2018-19, when he played for Portland — on 10-of-14 shooting from the floor and 3-of-8 from distance. Akot finished with 23 points on 7-of-14 shooting, canning four 3-pointers (on eight attempts). He also posted team highs in assists (5) and steals (2).

Boise State’s last game prior to its meeting with the Pack Wednesday was on Dec. 28; Nevada’s last came on New Year’s Day.

Both had multiple Mountain West affairs postponed (Boise State - 3, Nevada - 2) since, though Boise State clearly looked like the fresher team — especially defensively.

Though the Wolf Pack snapped Boise’s seven-game streak of holding opponents to 60 or fewer points, the Broncos — who ranked in the top-20 nationally (per Ken Pom) in defensive efficiency entering the evening — held Nevada to just 40.7 percent shooting (29.6 percent in first half) and 33.3 percent (6-18) from 3-point range.

Boise State also out-rebounded the Wolf Pack, 38-29 — the third time in the last four games where Nevada’s been beaten on the glass.

“As a whole, we have to be a tougher team,” Nevada guard Grant Sherfield said after the game. “Every toughness play, every loose ball, (Boise State) got. Every rebound, offensive rebound, they got ... We got to find a way to be tougher and win these tough games.”

Nevada head coach Steve Alford also remarked on the team’s toughness, or lack thereof, in Wednesday’s 15-point loss.

“We’ve just got to get tougher as a team,” Alford said. “I think that was the good lesson tonight — regardless of pause and regardless of what affected anybody — I thought you saw five (Boise State) seniors, a junior and two super-seniors with a lot of maturity, a lot of toughness, a lot of experience. And that showed through tonight and we’ve got to learn and grow from that.”

Sherfield and Desmond Cambridge, both of whom have notably had success against the Broncos in recent meetings, combined for 40 of the Pack’s 70 points.

Sherfield — the only player in the nation to be averaging at least 18.5 points and 6.5 assists heading into the contest — had 26 points on 7-of-17 shooting, including 11-of-12 from the charity stripe. He’s now tallied seven 20-point performances on the season including six in his last nine games.

Coming off a dismal 6-of-20 shooting performance on New Year’s Day, Desmond Cambridge sank five of his 10 field goal attempts, finishing with 14 points. Warren Washington added 11 points with three rebounds.

Boise State netted half its field goals, though it shot 34.6 percent from beyond the arc and 64 percent (16-25) from the free-throw line.

Naje Smith was its only other double-digit scorer. He finished with 11 points on a near-perfect 5-of-7 shooting in 19 minutes off the bench. Abu Kigab, the team’s leading scorer (14.2 ppg) entering Wednesday, finished with nine points, but added seven rebounds, two assists, one steal and one block.

Both teams were red-hot entering the showdown — Nevada winning six of its last seven while the Broncos were riding a seven-game win streak. Wednesday’s win boosts Boise to 11-4 and 2-0 in Mountain West play; the Wolf Pack drop to 7-6 with a 1-1 conference record.

“I think it was evident tonight with me watching that we didn’t have that ‘pop’ that we’ve been having,” Alford added. “Hopefully we can get it back ... I thought the more experienced, more mature, older team was able to take care of it tonight.”

Will Baker tallied the Wolf Pack’s first seven points. Akot’s jumper gave the Broncos the 18-11 advantage with 11:45 remaining in the opening half.

The Wolf Pack struggled with Boise’s stout defense throughout the first half, netting just five of their first 18 shots attempts — including three of their opening 13 attempts inside the arc.

Akot’s posterizing slam followed by his step-back 3-pointer put Boise State ahead 29-17 — prompting a Wolf Pack timeout. Akot began a perfect 5-of-5 from the floor with three 3-pointers.

The Broncos widened their lead to 17, but Sherfield’s 3-pointer with under 10 seconds to go in the first half cut it to 41-27 entering the break.

In the first half, Nevada conjured together as many makes on free throws (8) than field goals (8). It shot 8-of-27 — a lowly 29.6 percent — with three 3-pointers. Boise State shot 48.5 percent on six more attempts, including 6-of-17 (35.3 percent) from distance.

The Wolf Pack opened the second half on a 7-0 run, but Akot’s 3-pointer eventually widened it back up to 17, 53-36. Cambridge’s four-point play conversion followed by Sherfield’s layup cut the Bronco lead to 55-46 with 13:30 left, but six straight from Boise State re-upped it 61-46.

Tyson Degenhart’s layup capped a 13-3 run that rewarded Boise State the 68-49 advantage with 9:13 remaining, prompting another Pack timeout.

Boise State increased the lead to as big as 21 with under eight minutes to go, but couldn’t escalate the lead past that threshold.

Kenan Blackshear’s thunderous one-handed jam cut the Pack deficit to 14 with 4:08 remaining, but Nevada wasn’t able to cut into double-digits as Boise State earned its 8th straight victory of the 2021-22 season.

Next up: Nevada travels to Colorado Springs, Colo., for a one-game road trip against the Air Force Falcons. The game will be on Saturday, Jan. 15 at 2:00 p.m. PST on CBS Sports Network.