Boise State's double-digit lead evaporates in the desert

The Broncos had enough of a late advantage that UNLV fans started leaving, but they couldn’t finish off the Rebels.

dsouthorn@idahostatesman.comFebruary 2, 2014 

UNLV’s Khem Birch dunks over Boise State’s Dezmyn Trent. Birch had 15 points and six blocked shots for the Rebels.

ISAAC BREKKEN — The Associated Press

— As is commonplace here, they arrived full of hope, had a few things break their way, and ultimately left disappointed.

Leading by 11 points with 3 minutes, 48 seconds to play Saturday at UNLV, the Boise State men’s basketball team collapsed down the stretch, scoring just two points the rest of the way in a 73-69 loss to the Runnin’ Rebels.

“It was a lot of different things,” said Boise State coach Leon Rice, whose team fell to 0-6 all-time in Las Vegas. “It’s not just one thing you pick out — each one of us will second-guess everything we did.”

Like not getting late stops.

Boise State (15-7, 5-4) saw UNLV (15-7, 6-3) hit its final four field goals, including a pair of Kevin Olekaibe 3-pointers. The last of them, the go-ahead basket, came with 19.3 seconds to play after the Broncos took a 69-68 lead on a Mikey Thompson layup with 36.3 seconds remaining. Olekaibe’s 3-pointers sandwiched a pair of layups by Deville Smith in a 15-second span.

“Smith drove in, sucked everyone in, and Olekaibe got a wide-open 3. We knew he could make those sorts of shots,” Thompson said.

The Broncos had another shot to get the lead back, but Derrick Marks’ 10-footer in the lane was just wide. UNLV sealed it with a pair of free throws with 6.1 seconds left.

When Dezmyn Trent’s 3-pointer put the Broncos up 67-56, fans started to trickle out of Thomas & Mack Center, missing the home team’s comeback, capped by Olekaibe’s winner.

“Hopefully next time they’ll stay,” Olekaibe said. “After that shot, the next possession was the most important — getting the stop, and that’s what we did.”

If Marks had to pick out one thing he’d redo, it’s get another chance at the line.

With Boise State leading 67-64, Marks missed a pair of free throws with 1:37 to go, and Smith hit a layup on the other end. Marks had a game-high 22 points, including 12 in the second half.

“It’s going to stay with me, because my teammates trust me in that position, and to miss back-to-back free-throws, that’s not acceptable,” Marks said.

Thompson was willing to shoulder responsibility after the loss in his hometown.

The sophomore had three turnovers in the final 3:15, the second of which came when Smith popped the ball out near midcourt and raced for the fastbreak layup to take a 68-67 lead with 1:17 to go, UNLV’s first since leading 11-10 with 13:30 remaining in the first half.

“I’m devastated, I’m hurt — I made three crucial turnovers,” Thompson said. “Personally, I can’t do that in a game like this.”

Thompson also said the Broncos sent the Rebels to the free-throw line too much. UNLV shot 32 free throws to Boise State’s 11. The Rebels made 24, the Broncos seven.

In the process, leading scorer Anthony Drmic fouled out with 3:10 remaining, starting freshman Nick Duncan played just 19 minutes while struggling with fouls, and starting senior Jeff Elorriaga left the game with an injury and 4:05 remaining in the first half.

The Broncos led by as much as 12 in the first half before the Rebels tied it 46-46 with 12 minutes remaining. Boise State went on a 11-0 run, but were outscored 27-12 the last 8:06.

“We got in such deep, dark foul trouble, and losing Jeff, that really killed us,” Rice said. “We had a great rotation going in the first half. … Then you shorten it, and all of the sudden Derrick plays all the (remaining) minutes, Mikey plays (32 off the bench), you probably lose concentration here and there.”

Focus will shift quickly. No. 5 San Diego State comes to Boise on Wednesday, and should the ranking hold, the Aztecs will be the third team ranked in the top 5 ever to play at Boise State. It also has become an occurrence too common for the Broncos’ tastes, needing to rebound after a key opportunity slipped through their hands.

“This isn’t the first time it’s happened. We know what needs to be fixed. We just need to do a better job of doing it, starting with San Diego State,” Marks said.

Dave Southorn: 377-6420, Twitter: @IDS_Southorn

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