ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Even when struggling on offense, the Boise State men's basketball team was able to stay within striking distance of No. 19 New Mexico on Saturday night - but scoring opportunities went unclaimed.
Trailing 51-46 with less than 3 minutes to play, Boise State missed three free throws in 16 seconds and was never within two baskets again in a 60-50 Mountain West Conference loss.
"You've got to make those in an environment like this," Boise State coach Leon Rice said. "You aren't going to get too many of those opportunities, so you have to take advantage. Those would've kept us right in it."
Derrick Marks, who came into the game leading the Mountain West in free-throw percentage, missed both of his attempts with 2 minutes, 48 seconds to play. Tony Snell missed a jumper on the other end, and Kenny Buckner was fouled with 2:32 to go. He missed the front end of a one-and-one. The Lobos (22-4, 9-2) scored the next four points, and the Broncos (16-8, 4-6) didn't get another basket until 46 seconds remained.
"We shot ourselves in the foot, missed free throws, had some cheap fouls and too many turnovers (17)," Buckner said.
Boise State shot 20-of-54 from the floor (37 percent), slightly better than the Lobos' 34.7 percent on 17-of-49 shooting. New Mexico, however, made it to the line 25 times, making 19, as opposed to Boise State's 5-of-10 showing.
Marks led all scorers with 19 points, but the seven other Broncos who played combined to shoot 12-of-39 from the floor. Jeff Elorriaga, who came into the game as the top 3-point shooter in the conference, was 1-of-9 from long distance.
"We did a great job defensively, we did enough defensively to put is in position to win the game, but our offense failed us a little bit," Rice said of his team, which was held to a season-low 50 points.
New Mexico had four scorers in double figures, led by forward Cameron Bairstow's 16 points and seven rebounds, but most of the praise went to the team's defense, which held Boise State to 25 points below its average.
"(Boise State) has been a team that has an awful lot of balance and a lot of guys score," New Mexico coach Steve Alford said. "So to only have one in double figures, I thought that was a really good defensive effort by our guys."
Twice with less than 10 minutes to play, Boise State got within three, but New Mexico guard Jamal Fenton answered with a 3-pointer. The Broncos got as close as 47-46 with 5:23 to play on a Marks layup, but they did not score again until another Marks layup with 46 seconds to go, a span of 11 possessions.
"It's tough to play hard like that and get so close, but I think we'll get over that hump," Marks said.
Buckner had 11 rebounds in 26 minutes off the bench for the Broncos, making a difference on the defensive end against 7-foot center Alex Kirk (1-of-7 from the field).
"Buck did a great job, got those 11 rebounds and really flew around defensively," Rice said.
As a chance at an at-large NCAA Tournament bid wanes, the Broncos are looking to improve their seed going into next month's conference tournament - first up is a Wednesday home date with Air Force (15-9, 6-5).
"We've got everyone (healthy), and guys like Jeff will bounce back - now we've got to look forward to stepping up against Air Force," Marks said.
Dave Southorn: 377-6420, Twitter: @IDS_southorn