Just when you think the fairytale is going to end for Boise State, they continue to keep it alive. After a gut-check win against Wyoming last Tuesday, the Broncos knew that in order to cap an arduous string of Mountain West games, they would need everything they could muster. Boise State had played three straight top 60 teams according to the NCAA Net Rankings and Fresno State was no slouch with a current ranking of 64.
Fresno State’s Orlando Robinson took charge of the game from the get-go, getting the first seven points for the Bulldogs. However, Robinson was nabbed with two offensive fouls with over 13 minutes left in the first half. This forced Bulldog head coach Justin Hutson to sit Robinson until there was less than one minute left in the first half. The score was close the entire half as the Broncos and Bulldogs traded spurts of scoring runs. The long ball was an asset for the Broncos as they made seven three-pointers during the first 20 minutes. The Broncos took a 29-25 lead into halftime and were getting closer and closer to making history.
Once again, Robinson led the Bulldogs to a fast start, accounting for six of their first eight points coming out of the break. Despite picking up a third foul before the halfway point, Robinson stayed on the floor for a majority of the game. He kept the Bulldogs within striking distance with shots from long-distance and plays in the paint that seemed effortless. There is a reason that he is highly touted amongst the NBA ranks.
Max Rice had his breakout game of the season as he converted multiple threes, a crucial one coming from the parking lot as the shot clock expired . His efforts helped put the Broncos up four at the under four minute mark and it felt as though the Broncos were going to be able to salt the game away. Fresno State hit a turning point as Robinson converted a three-pointer and was fouled on the follow-through. He nailed the free-throw, tying the game at 49 with three minutes remaining. Fresno State would take the lead with 2:15, thanks to a Leo Colimerio layup. After a few empty possessions, Marcus Shaver Jr. was fouled, but only converted one of his two free throws.
The Bulldogs extended their lead to three and it appeared the Broncos had one last shot at keeping their head above water. Shaver missed a three with three seconds to go, but the ball careened out of play and after an initial call of Fresno possession, it was reversed, and it gave the Broncos a last gasp. Tim Duryea, an assistant coach for the Broncos, drew up a play that would give them three options for a shooter. Tyson Degenhart was covered, and Max Rice was treated to a double-team, leaving one of the most clutch shooters in college basketball open at the top of the arc. Shaver received the pass, pumped faked a defender into jumping, side-stepped, and let it fly.
This is where you’ve seen this ending before. The ball fell through the rim, touching nothing but net. Shaver had done it again, giving the Broncos an extra life in the form of overtime.
The momentum was evident as Boise State jumped out to an 8-0 run, commanding the arena with the bravado of a seasoned squad that could taste history. The Bulldogs didn’t quit though, as a needed timeout from Hutson lit the fire for an 8-0 run of their own. Abu Kigab nailed a pair of free throws to take a two-point lead and on the following possession, Emmanuel Akot iced the game with a three from the wing with 22 seconds left. Tyson Degenhart would add the cherry on top with two free throws as fans filed out of Save Mart Center.
The two biggest team stats of the night were turnovers and fouls. The Bulldogs committed 16 fouls, including four charges that were taken in the chest by Degenhart. Having Orlando Robinson on the bench for 17 minutes in this game was the deal breaker as he is their number one scoring option night in and night out. Fresno State also gave away the ball 14 times—twice as much as the Broncos.
Max Rice was the unsung hero of the game, going 50 percent from beyond the arc on six attempts. Abu Kigab, Marcus Shaver, and Emmanuel Akot all scored in the teens, having their moments to contribute. Orlando Robinson was the game-leader in points, racking up 21 despite being limited due to foul trouble.
Fresno State travels to San Jose on February 1st to take on the Spartans. Their bubble hasn’t burst yet, but the time is now if they don’t want the Mountain West tournament to be their only avenue to “The Big Dance”.
Boise State is reaping the benefits of concluding their difficult stretch and enjoying a six-day break. Their next game is a rematch against Wyoming on February 3rd. The game is in Laramie and will air on the Mountain West Network at 7:00 MST.