For nearly 38 minutes, it looked like luck might change for the Boise State men’s basketball team.
Instead, the Broncos found themselves on the wrong end of the scoreboard for the 20th time this season — a program record — following a 77-69 loss to No. 14 Nevada in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West Tournament on Thursday at the Thomas & Mack Center.
“It was a good battle. I was proud of the way our guys competed,” Boise State coach Leon Rice said. “It’s been a rough year. And they never ever, ever wavered in how they competed. And I told them I was really proud about that because that didn’t look like a team that had the record that we had.”
At 13-20, the Broncos surpassed the previous mark of 7-19 set during the 1980-81 season when the team played in the Big Sky.
Boise State has lost in the Mountain West Tournament quarterfinals four consecutive seasons. The Broncos also fell to 8-51 against opponents ranked in the Top 25 of The Associated Press poll.
“We’re a lot better team than we were in November. We were a bad basketball team, to be honest,” Rice said. “And at the end, I think we played a lot of good minutes. We didn’t get near the results we wanted, not even close for this program.
“But I knew that you weren’t going to knock Nevada out in the (first half). It’s going to take five punches, five times putting them to the canvas.”
If the Broncos needed five punches, they got in a good four and a half.
In perhaps their best 20 minutes of the season, the Broncos challenged the Wolf Pack (29-3) early with physicality inside and a barrage of 3-pointers. Redshirt seniors Zach Haney and David Wacker were both in the starting lineup for the third straight game. Haney was 3-for-3 from the field with four rebounds, two assists, two steals and one blocked shot in the first half.
“I thought they were really, really physical. They didn’t back down from us at all,” Nevada coach Eric Musselman said of Boise State. “... We stunk for 12 minutes. It was hard to watch. I would have rather gone to the dentist and gotten some teeth pulled than watch us on both sides of the ball.”
The Broncos combined to shoot 13-for-27 overall and knocked down 5-of-10 from beyond the arc for a 34-29 lead over Nevada at halftime. Boise State held Nevada to a single field goal for the opening 8 minutes, 54 seconds while forcing six turnovers.
Musselman became so frustrated that he came all the way across halfcourt during a media timeout to yell at the officials over an out-of-bounds call and had to be corralled back to the Wolf Pack’s huddle by several assistants.
“It was great to come out and battle with these guys one last time,” Haney said. “I feel like every player in the locker room left it out on the floor. If they were a redshirt, they’re clapping, to having a great mustache on the bench (referring to Robin Jorch) or playing out there. They were literally just giving it their all. I love those guys and they all know that.”
But no lead is safe against Nevada. The Wolf Pack ate into the Broncos’ 15-point advantage, taking their first lead of the game, 37-34, on a 3-pointer from Caleb Martin with 18:27 on the clock in the second half.
Boise State tied the game at 62-62 with 4:03 left and was down just 66-65 with 2:26 to play before Nevada closed the game with an 11-4 run to end the Broncos’ season. The Wolf Pack shot 61.5 percent in the second half, which is tied for the second-highest shooting percentage in a half for Nevada this season.
“The thing with our ball club is down 15, no panic,” Musselman said. “It seems that we’ve kind of been in those situations where we’ve gotten down and figured out a way to come from behind on a big stage. And today was no different.”
Boise State redshirt sophomore Derrick Alston poured in a game-leading 21 points, including four 3-pointers, for his fifth consecutive game scoring in double figures. Junior guard Justinian Jessup had 18 points, six rebounds and two assists, and junior point guard Marcus Dickinson added 12 points and a key 3-pointer with 2:26 left that brought the Broncos within 66-65.
In the final game of his collegiate career, Haney totaled 10 points, seven rebounds, three assists and two steals. But the 6-foot-11 big man fouled out with 4:44 left in the game after he was whistled for an offensive foul. Haney and Wacker are the only players who won’t be back for the Broncos next season.
And with two Pac-12 transfers and a talented group of redshirts waiting for their turn on the court, Rice was eager to flip the page.
“Usually you get done with the season just exhausted and worn out. ... But I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited. Let’s start tomorrow. Let’s go,” Rice said. “The Broncos are going to be back because of the character of guys we have and the guys we have redshirting and the guys we have coming in. The Broncos are going to be back.”
NEVADA 77, BOISE STATE 69
BOISE STATE (13-20)
ALSTON, Derrick 7-15 3-3 21; JESSUP, Justinian 7-17 2-2 18; DICKINSON, Marcus 4-6 2-2 12; HANEY, Zach 5-7 0-2 10; HOBBS, Alex 2-7 4-4 8; WILLIAMS, RJ 0-2 0-0 0; WACKER, David 0-1 0-0 0; HARWELL, Malek 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-55 11-13 69.
Jazz Johnson 5-7 5-6 20; Caleb Martin 6-17 4-6 19; Tre’Shawn Thurman 8-10 1-1 17; Cody Martin 3-11 3-4 10; Jordan Caroline 2-7 3-4 7; Trey Porter 2-2 0-0 4; Corey Henson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-54 16-21 77.
Boise State................... 34 35 — 69
Nevada..................... 29 48 — 77
3-point goals — Boise State 8-17 (ALSTON, Derrick 4-7; DICKINSON, Marcus 2-2; JESSUP, Justinian 2-7; HOBBS, Alex 0-1), Nevada 9-23 (Jazz Johnson 5-7; Caleb Martin 3-11; Cody Martin 1-4; Jordan Caroline 0-1). Fouled out — Boise State-HANEY, Zach, Nevada-None. Rebounds — Boise State 25 (HANEY, Zach 7), Nevada 33 (Jordan Caroline 9). Assists — Boise State 14 (DICKINSON, Marcus 5), Nevada 16 (Cody Martin 9). Total fouls — Boise State 15, Nevada 15. Technical fouls — None.