No. 5 San Diego State thwarts Boise State's upset bid in stunning finish

Aztecs hit 3-pointer in final seconds for 67-65 victory.

dsouthorn@idahostatesman.comFebruary 6, 2014 

What seemed to be a charmed night for the Boise State men's basketball team turned into an all-too-familiar nightmare Wednesday.

When Thomas Bropleh hit a bankshot 3-pointer with less than 14 minutes left to take a 14-point lead on No. 5 San Diego State, the Broncos could do no wrong.

But a season-changing win, one that could have been the biggest in school history, was not to be.

The Broncos made just three field goals after Bropleh’s prayer of a shot. The Aztecs’ Dwayne Polee II provided the dagger, hitting a game-winning 3-pointer with 4 seconds left for a 67-65 win.

“We’re a good team right now, and we’re so close to being a great team, we can’t lose sight of that,’’ said Boise State coach Leon Rice, whose team led by 11 with 4 minutes left, but lost to UNLV 73-69 on Saturday in its last game. “We played great basketball at UNLV, didn’t finish. We played great basketball against the No. 5 team at home, didn’t finish.’’

With the Aztec (20-1, 9-0) win, the past six meetings between the two teams have now been decided by 19 points. San Diego State is 5-1 in those games, winning two with game-winning shots in the final seconds. Two were won as Boise State missed potential game-winners. Boise State (15-8, 5-5) has lost five games by four points or less this season.

“We don’t like close games like this … that hurts,’’ Boise State sophomore Mikey Thompson said.

Guard Xavier Thames scored 10 of the Aztecs’ final 13 points, including a pair of free throws with 51.4 seconds left after creating a steal near half-court that made it 65-64 in Boise State’s advantage.

After Derrick Marks missed on the other end, Thames crashed the lane and kicked it out to Polee, whose 3-pointer sucked the wind out of Taco Bell Arena, and the season-high crowd of 9,602 along with it, hoping for the Broncos’ first-ever win over a top-10 team. Now they are 0-5.

“It’s expected to be a tough game, it goes down to the wire every time we play them,’’ Polee said. “We always expect them to play their hearts out every time.’’

Boise State made its first five field-goal attempts of the game and six of its first seven, jumping out to a 17-7 lead on a 3-pointer from Bropleh.

The Broncos shot 54.8 percent from the field in the first half against the Aztecs, who entered the game ranked No. 1 in the country in field-goal percentage defense (36.1 percent). Boise State made its first six attempts of the second half, but just three of its last 14, getting just a Thompson jumper during a 10 minute, 12 second span during which the Aztecs went on an 18-2 run to go up 61-59.

“There were brilliant moments … you just can’t have bad moments against a good team,’’ Rice said.

After Bropleh’s 3-pointer with 13:51 to go put the Broncos up by 14, the Broncos had six turnovers and scored just eight points.

“We didn't really move the ball, and any time we penetrated, they stopped us and it was a turnover,’’ Thompson said.

As San Diego State made its run, the “here-we-go-again’’ mentality seeped into the crowd, and even into the Broncos.

“It can’t become a disease where it’s like, ‘We can’t win these, here they come’ and I think I saw that look in our guys’ eyes. It’s the first time I’ve seen it,’’ Rice said.

Thames had a game-high 23 points on 5-of-7 shooting and 10-of-11 at the free throw line, while Boise State was led by Thompson, who had 16 points in his first start of the season. Thompson was the only Bronco to shoot free throws, making 5-of-9. Marks had 15 points, as did Bropleh off the bench, and Anthony Drmic added 13 points. Senior Ryan Watkins had six points and eight rebounds at the half, but had none of either after.

With hopes of an NCAA Tournament berth just about gone if they can’t win the Mountain West Tournament, the Broncos will need to get the best seed possible, and that will mean winning close games, starting Saturday at Utah State, where the Broncos are 0-17 all-time.

“We’ve got tough kids that can make clutch shots — they’ve got to get their belief back,’’ Rice said.

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