All it took was a glance and two words from Boise State assistant basketball coach Phil Beckner to let Paris Austin know he had free reign to take over.
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Entering Saturday’s home game against Wyoming, Austin said he had been playing calculated. Coming off a seven-point effort in a loss at New Mexico, his goal against the Cowboys was to not make mistakes.
But after heading to a huddle during a timeout, Austin said Beckner gave him a look and barked: “Let’s go.”
Austin got the message loud and clear.
The sophomore scored a career-high 27 points and junior Chandler Hutchison added 25 as Boise State overcame a four-point halftime deficit and withstood a Wyoming rally to defeat the Cowboys 91-87 at Taco Bell Arena. The Broncos led by 11 with less than a minute to play and fought off a late 14-7 run with free throw shooting.
“(Beckner) gave me a look,” said Austin, who also led the Broncos with six assists. “As soon as he said (let’s go), I was like, play fast and try to make things happen.”
It is just the second time the Broncos (17-8, 10-4) have won a game where they trailed at halftime (Dec. 31, vs. Colorado State). Saturday’s win puts Boise State back in a tie for first place with Colorado State (18-9, 10-4) and Nevada (21-6, 10-4) in the Mountain West as the Broncos head to Reno for a critical game Wednesday.
Boise State opened the second half by outscoring Wyoming 23-6 behind Hutchison and Austin, who scored a combined 30 second-half points.
Behind eight straight points from Alexander Aka Gorski, Wyoming (16-12, 6-9) closed to within two points with 2.7 seconds remaining.
Hutchison made a pair of free throws to hold off the Cowboys. Boise State made 9-of-10 free throws in the final 66 seconds, with Austin, Hutchison and James Reid doing the damage.
“We’ve been through games earlier this year that have prepared us for this,” Hutchison said. “We try to just focus on trusting each other, because sometimes we can get complacent.”
Emotions were high between the teams late, as Austin walked into the Cowboys’ huddle and Hutchison was seen exchanging words with a Wyoming player as he shot free throws.
“Wyoming’s staff is always talking, and their players. When I was at the free throw line, (a player) came up to me and said something and I said, ‘You guys can just go home now.’ And he got a little sensitive,” Hutchison said. “It got blown up into something it wasn’t.”
The first half was opposite of the Jan. 28 meeting between the teams. In Laramie, Boise State held the Cowboys to 3-for-21 shooting from 3-point range. Wyoming made seven in the first half Saturday for a 41-37 lead.
And while the Broncos went 12-for-27 from deep in the first meeting, Boise State was 2-for-9 from three in the first half Saturday. Austin’s 14 first-half points kept the Broncos within striking distance.
“We didn’t do a good enough job of defending the three in the first half,” Boise State head coach Leon Rice said.
Boise State shot 50 percent from the field, a significant improvement from the 39.7 percent mark in Tuesday’s loss at New Mexico.
“We were really efficient offensively, but it started with stops. We took great care of the ball in the second half, (and) we had some good defensive stops that got our offense running a little bit,” Rice said.
Reid and Nick Duncan finished with 12 and 10 points, respectively.
Redshirt freshman Malek Harwell, who had not played in a game since Jan. 4 at UNLV, scored two points. He battled through knee injuries at Century High in Pocatello and last year at Boise State.
“I’m so proud of Malek,” Rice said. “He’s doing one of the toughest things you have to do, and that’s bring a great attitude, bring a great energy, bring a great work ethic every single day, when he hasn’t played.”
Boise State plays at Nevada at 8 p.m. Wednesday in what could be a deciding game in the Mountain West race. The Wolf Pack defeated the Broncos 76-57 at Taco Bell Arena on Jan. 25.
“We’re just trying to take it a game at a time. The last few days’ focus have been about Wyoming,” Austin said. “Now our focus is on Nevada.”
NOTES: Boise State has won 10 conference games for the third consecutive season. It is the second time in school history the Broncos have won 10 league games three straight years (1986-89). ... Duncan scored in double figures for the first time since Jan. 7 against San Diego State. ... The Broncos are 6-0 when shooting at least 50 percent from the floor and 48-2 during Rice’s tenure in such games. …The Broncos had 18 assists. Since the start of 2011-12, Boise State is 45-4 when producing at least 15 assists in a game.