The Boise State mens basketball teams promising start to the season and, perhaps, its postseason prospects was in danger of turning sour Wednesday night.
The Broncos, losers of two consecutive Mountain West games, had squandered all of their double-digit second-half lead and trailed last-place Fresno State with fewer than three minutes remaining at Taco Bell Arena.
Instead, the Broncos, without glue guy and 3-point sharpshooter Jeff Elorriaga, found their resolve. Sophomore Anthony Drmic downed a game-tying 3-pointer, the defense stiffened, the Broncos made free throw after free throw and they walked away with a 74-67 victory.
Boise State (14-4, 2-2 in Mountain West) outscored Fresno State 13-3 in the final 2 minutes, 33 seconds.
It was important. I dont know if you can say season-defining, Boise State coach Leon Rice said. If its a mile, were in the third lap, which is the hardest lap. Were down some guys. We weathered a storm tonight.
They did so behind a record-setting performance from the free-throw line and strong individual performances by Drmic, Derrick Marks and Ryan Watkins.
Boise State made all 26 of its free-throw attempts (18 in the second half), setting school and Mountain West records. The Broncos previous best perfect performance from the line was 9-for-9, set earlier this year. The league mark was 23-for-23 by Colorado State last season.
That just shows how focused we were, said Marks, who was 12-of-12 from the line and had 30 points.
It almost wasnt enough against a scrappy Fresno State (7-11, 1-4 in MW) team, which forced Boise State into some horrendous shooting early on. The Broncos missed their first eight shots and 21 of their first 25.
But a dominant performance on the offensive glass (14 offensive rebounds) allowed the Broncos to hang around until they found their shooting touch. Watkins had eight offensive rebounds as part of his career-high 18 boards.
We knew coming in that Watkins is one of the best offensive rebounders in the league and he showed that tonight, Fresno State coach Rodney Terry said. He gave them a lot of second-chance points when they werent shooting the ball particularly well to start the game.
Off an offensive rebound by Kenny Buckner, who had five rebounds in his first game back from a three-game suspension, Elorriaga made a 3-pointer with 5:50 to play in the first half to give the Broncos their first lead of the game at 19-18.
They were Elorriagas only points of the game. The junior suffered a concussion last week against New Mexico and sat out the Broncos loss to Air Force. He started Wednesday night, but hit the floor hard late in the first half and did not return for the second half.
The Broncos struggled without Elorriagas toughness, defense and shot-making at Air Force and it appeared a repeat was in store against the Bulldogs. Fresno State, which trailed 39-28 early in the second half, took a 64-61 lead on Tyler Johnsons 3-pointer with 2:55 left.
But Drmic answered right back with a 3-pointer of his own.
We have him some separation and he doesnt need much separation, Terry said.
Said Rice: Huge shot. Huge shot.
With the score tied at 66, Drmic made another big shot, a driving lay-up that gave the Broncos the lead for good with 1:09 to play. The Broncos held Fresno State to just one made field goal in the final 2:55, including a key block by Igor Hadziomerovic.
We always work on end-game scenarios and end-game situations and getting those stops at the end of the game, said Drmic, who had 23 points. Then going down the other end and converting or converting free throws.
Marks and Watkins made all six free-throw attempts in the final minute to seal the game. Drmic and Marks scored 35 of the Broncos 43 second-half points as they played without Elorriaga or reserve wing Thomas Bropleh, who missed the game with a wrist injury.
We had to buckle down and we had to get stops. Thats what we failed to do a couple games before, Watkins said. We had to get back to doing what we do, getting stops and getting wins in the clutch.
Brian Murphy: 377-6444