Of the 12,434 New Mexico fans in attendance Wednesday night, a few thousand wound up celebrating in their cars or at home instead of inside The Pit.
Trailing 76-61 with 6 minutes to play, it looked like the Boise State men’s basketball team was going to run away with a win as red-clad fans filed for the exits. But it’s one of the nation’s toughest road venues to win in for a reason.
New Mexico closed out the game with a 19-2 run to shock the Broncos 80-78, completing a total collapse for the road team.
“The fans that left with 6 minutes to go missed a hell of a game,” New Mexico coach Craig Neal said.
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From one of the Broncos’ best stretches of the season to one of its worst, the full gamut of emotions ran their course in a matter of minutes, ending in the worst way possible.
“You question everything after something like that, but we were limited with only having one timeout late, not making free throws on the road,” Boise State coach Leon Rice said. “We were slowed down, constantly pulling the ball out of the net because we couldn’t get stops.”
The Lobos (16-10, 9-4) hit five of their last seven shots, while the Broncos (17-10, 8-6) made one shot in its last nine attempts. New Mexico held onto second place in the Mountain West standings as Boise State fell to fifth.
In the final minutes, the Broncos had their chances to close it out, but had back-to-back turnovers, the last with less than a minute left while holding the lead. Guard Elijah Brown scored nine straight points, the last two a pair of free throws with 30.2 seconds left that gave the Lobos the lead for good. A layup attempt by Boise State senior guard Mikey Thompson was blocked with 8 seconds left and senior guard/forward Anthony Drmic’s 3-point attempt to win it at the buzzer missed.
Playing a major role in the brutal finish was Boise State’s 3-of-11 shooting from the free-throw line in the second half. The Broncos finished the game 7-of-16 on free throws, while the Lobos were 25-of-33. UNLV interim coach Todd Simon said earlier this month after losing at New Mexico, “It’s no secret you have to be 20 points better to win by two here.”
“We make those free throws, and if (Brown) gets hot, it doesn’t matter, because the game’s over, we’re up 18 or whatever,” Rice said.
The loss overshadowed one of the best games Drmic has provided in his long career for the Broncos.
Battling injuries throughout his career, missing most of last season and still feeling the lingering effects of offseason ankle surgery, it hasn’t exactly been how he envisioned his final season with Boise State.
But on the road, in one of the most difficult places to play, Drmic looked as good as he ever has, scoring 30 points — his most since he had 30 against South Carolina on Dec. 23, 2013.
Trailing most of the first half, Drmic kept the Broncos in the fight with 23 points in only 12 minutes off the bench, scoring 19 of the Broncos’ 22 points in the final 8:47 as they went into the break down 42-37.
Drmic is 21-of-35 from the field in the Broncos’ past three games, the first three that he has come off the bench this season. His six 3-pointers Wednesday helped him break the Boise State career record, surpassing Coby Karl on his final make for 267 in his career.
“If we want to win the conference tournament, we’ll need something like that from him,” Rice said. “It’s really promising to see him do what he did.”
The Broncos got some more support for Drmic in the second half before the Lobos’ massive comeback, the largest in the final 6 minutes in school history.
Junior forward James Webb III had 11 of his 13 points in the second half, while senior guard Montigo Alford played tough defense on Brown, who had 30 points in the teams’ first meeting Jan. 30 in Boise. But Brown went off in the final stretch, scoring 17 of his 26 points in the last 10 minutes. After the game, Brown said “I was a little hurt” seeing fans starting to leave, and unfortunately for the Broncos, took it out on them and completed the regular season sweep.
Prior to Brown’s huge finish, early in the second half, Boise State used a 14-0 run to turn a five-point deficit into a 55-46 lead with 15:12 to play. In that span, the Lobos were forced into five turnovers and the Broncos had three offensive rebounds.
“They did everything we asked, those were maybe the best 14 minutes we’ve played, but just a tough ending,” Rice said.
A team that is no stranger to roller coaster second halves again finds itself trying to pull itself up after a close loss, having lost five of its last seven and all of them having the lead with 14 minutes or less remaining. Boise State is off this weekend, back at home at 9 p.m. Tuesday against UNLV.
“I think we played really good basketball most of the game, and we just have to be resilient, build on that,” Rice said.
UNLV (15-12, 6-8 MW) at Boise State (17-10, 8-6), 9 p.m. Tuesday (ESPNU, 670 AM/93.1 FM)