It’s not often when you get a chance to witness something that hasn’t happened in 34 years. The last time the Broncos were able to reach the pinnacle was during the height of the Bobby Dye era when they were a part of the Big Sky conference. However, that is what Boise State fans were treated to Tuesday night in a Mountain West showdown. Beyond the potential coronation, Leon Rice and company were looking to send Abu Kigab off into the sunset with a final win at ExtraMile Arena. Nevada had a chance to end a two-game losing streak and spoil the night for Boise State. The duo of Grant Sherfield and Desmond Cambridge Jr. allow the Wolfpack to compete and give themselves a shot in every game. Nearly 12,000 fans made their way to ExtraMile Arena and the atmosphere was absolutely electric.
The game started with poor offense by both sides with Nevada committing five turnovers in the opening four minutes. The slow start began to subside with Wolfpack center Will Baker keeping his team afloat early on. By the 12 minute-mark, the Broncos had jumped out to a seven-point lead and had multiple players contributing. The physicality that Warren Washington of Nevada brought to the floor ignited the team as they came back and briefly took the lead with nine minutes left in the half.
With under five minutes on the clock and Nevada knotting the game up at 27, a certain uneasiness was starting to infiltrate the Bronco faithful. Marcus Shaver Jr. erased this with his performance to close out the half. Shaver scored 12 straight points to inflate the lead to six and Boise State had a chance to go into the half up double-digits. Nevada avoided this via a missed three and a buzzer-beating jumper by Kenan Blackshear to trim the Bronco lead to six at intermission.
As the second half began, Nevada’s Desmond Cambridge Jr. was able to get on the board for his first points of the game. Emmanuel Akot started on fire from beyond the arc, nailing two three-pointers to keep the Bronco advantage beyond five. Boise State finally found some separation in the second half as they want on a 10-0 run that was powered by Tyson Degenhart launching a pair of threes. It felt as though the Broncos were well on their way to history and that late-game heroics wouldn’t be necessary.
But, as it always seems with Nevada, the Broncos weren’t able to slam the door shut. Kenan Blackshear and Cambridge led the Wolfpack back and were only down one with 4:45 left. Boise State’s four-point advantage remained for over two minutes as neither team was able to capitalize. After an Akot jumper and two Sherfield free-throws, time was of the essence.
Then came the possession that encapsulates what makes this 2022 Boise State men’s basketball team different.
A possession that started with 1:24 on the clock ran down all the way to 54 seconds when Akot put up a difficult shot as the shot clock expired.
Out of a Bronco timeout, Degenhart took a three-pointer and missed.
By the time Nevada began to intentionally foul, the effort and grittiness of Boise State burned nearly a full minute off of the clock. Shaver hit both free throws and Mladen Armus cleaned up a Sherfield miss to put a finishing touch on Senior Night.
Boise State 73 – Nevada 67.
Euphoria (sort of).
For the players and coaches, they had achieved another milestone that even the most optimistic Bronco fan would not have dreamed of. After starting the season 3-4, dismissing Devonaire Doutrive, and coming off a loss at home to Cal-State Bakersfield, the season felt as if it was over before it even started. Give credit to the entire coaching staff and most importantly, Leon Rice. He has had his name dragged through the mud when it comes to late-season success. Rice proved to the pessimists and energy vampires that he can take this program to heights that it has never seen with the proper resources and support.
Now, I wouldn’t be performing my due diligence if I didn’t address the post-game incident with the student section and ExtraMile Arena security. Without getting too much into the pinning of blame on specific personnel or whatever your theory is, there was no reason for this to happen. A memo that was dated on January 9th of this year details how security should interact with fans when it comes to storming the court. It underlined and emphasized that “If they (fans) choose to disregard this direction (verbal enforcement), staff do not go hands on.”. To me, there was simply a lack of reinforced communication at some point and certain staff took the “physical and verbal presence” instruction too far. It should be noted that ExtraMile Arena is its own entity and not a Boise State-owned facility.
Reverting back to the game itself, let’s take a look at the stat sheet.
For Nevada, Kenan Blackshear led the way in scoring with 16 points in 34 minutes of action. Will Baker followed suit, compiling 13 points, and playing a vital role early on in the game. Warren Washington was flying around the basket with multiple put-back jams as he accumulated 12 points and snatched six rebounds. Grant Sherfield was the only other player to reach double-digits, only going for ten points as he went zero for three from downtown. The Wolfpack shot 50 percent from the floor and finished at 25 percent from three-point territory.
Boise State was led by Senior Night honoree Abu Kigab as he tallied 23 points and shot an efficient nine of twelve from the field. Marcus Shaver Jr. and Emmanuel Akot helped carry the offense, both scoring 16 points. Mladen Armus made an impact inside as he corralled eight rebounds and added seven points to his name. Overall, the Broncos also shot 50 percent from the floor, but were able to utilize the three-point line more effectively, shooting 36 percent. Free throws were better. Not great, but not bad. They went 11-15 from the charity stripe, good for 73 percent.
As we enter the final weekend of regular season college basketball, both teams have tough tests.
Nevada has the chance to play spoiler at home against San Diego State on Saturday, March 5th. The game is scheduled for 8:30 MST (7:30 PST) and will be broadcast on CBS Sports Network (CBSSN). The Aztecs escaped Fresno State last night in double overtime 65-64 to keep their NCAA at-large hopes alive. It is official that Nevada will be the eight seed in the Mountain West conference tournament and will battle nine seed New Mexico on Wednesday, March 9th.
As for Boise State, they have taken care of business and brought an outright Mountain West championship to Boise for the first time. The Broncos’ last test is a road trip to Fort Collins to collide with Colorado State on Saturday. The game is slated for 6:30 MST and will be televised on CBS Sports Network (CBSSN). The game was already announced as a sellout two weeks ago and Moby Arena will certainly be at its capacity of 8,063. For the Broncos, everything moving forward will simply affect NCAA tournament seeding and not whether they are in or out. These Broncos are a lock to go dancing in March.