Forced into uncharacteristic mistakes by an athletic, hungry team, the Boise State men’s basketball team faded in the second half Wednesday at UNLV.
Though they held an eight-point lead at the half, the Broncos were met by a team eager to frustrate the visitors, earning extra possessions thanks to a fierce defense. For the first time in its past seven Mountain West regular season road games, Boise State lost — an 87-77 defeat to the Rebels at the Thomas & Mack Center.
“We let them set the tone on us in the second half, took it to us, created turnovers and put the ball where they wanted it,” Boise State coach Leon Rice said.
Boise State set a season-high with 18 turnovers, an abnormal showing for a team that entered the game 28th nationally, yielding only 10.9 turnovers per game.
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“That’s not us,” junior forward James Webb III said. “But they’re an athletic team, getting in the passing lanes, and we were careless with the ball. It’s easy to get steals when we help put it in their hands.”
The Broncos (15-6, 6-2) trailed for the last 9:51 of the game after a Patrick McCaw 3-pointer made it 55-53. Webb’s putback dunk with 4:55 remaining cut the Rebels’ lead to one, 66-65, but the home team responded with a 7-0 run.
UNLV (13-8, 4-4) had 17 assists to Boise State’s seven, including just two in the second half. The Broncos are 27-51 under Rice when they have fewer assists than their opponent.
The Broncos saw a 40-32 halftime lead dwindle quickly as the Rebels scored 14 of the first 20 second-half points, tying it at 46-46 on a Jerome Seagears steal and layup 5:48 into the second half. Eleven of the Broncos’ turnovers came in the final 20 minutes, and they were outrebounded 22-16 in that span. UNLV is 4-1 under interim coach Todd Simon, averaging 49.6 points per game in the second half.
“If you don’t get stops on the road, you won’t win,” Rice said. “We did a good job of it in the first half, but didn’t in the second half, and we paid the price.”
UNLV finished the first half 12-of-31 from the field, the Broncos 14-of-31 and holding a 25-18 rebounding edge. Senior guard Mikey Thompson, a Las Vegas native, had nine points and four rebounds in the first half for Boise State.
After the Rebels opened the game strong, taking a 20-14 lead 9:08 into the contest, the Broncos hit nine of their next 18 field goals, taking their first lead with 5:31 left in the half. UNLV made one of its last nine shots going into the break.
Thompson, whose late father Freddie, a former UNLV player, was honored before the game, finished with a team-high 19 points. His layup with 7:47 left gave him 1,001 career points, making him the 26th Boise State player to reach the 1,000-point plateau.
“One of the biggest things my dad taught me was to not let anything distract me, so I took it like any other game, but I really wanted to win this game,” Thompson said. “I had five of those turnovers, and that’s not what I do. I take the (blame).”
Rice said the loss shouldn’t be shouldered by just one person.
“When you have 18 turnovers, that’s a whole team issue,” he said.
Senior guard/forward Anthony Drmic got his first score of the game 2:19 into the second half on a 3-pointer, which tied him with Abe Jackson for second in school history with 253 career 3-pointers. Drmic made his 119th start Wednesday, setting a school record. Drmic finished with seven points, while Webb had 14 points and 11 rebounds, and junior forward Nick Duncan had 11 points.
McCaw led all scorers with 25 points for the Rebels, whose four double-digit scorers combined to shoot 25-of-40 from the field. The Rebels had seven more field goal attempts than the Broncos in the second half, shooting 57.1 percent (20-of-35).
Now the Broncos’ attention turns to another tough matchup at home Saturday against New Mexico for second place in the standings.
“We knew this week would test our mettle (Saturday) at Wyoming, at UNLV and then New Mexico at home, so we need a tough mentality to bounce back,” Rice said.
Boise State (15-6, 6-2 MW) hosts New Mexico (12-8, 5-2) at 3 p.m. at Taco Bell Arena (ESPN3, 670 AM)