There was no collapse, no letdown, no faltering down the stretch for the Boise State men’s basketball team Tuesday night.
Six days after seeing a 15-point lead with 6 minutes to play turn into a loss at New Mexico, the Broncos built up a big lead against the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels. This time, they didn’t let off the gas.
Dominating the boards, Boise State used a big second-half stretch to lead by as many as 18, holding on for the 81-69 victory in front of 4,605 fans at Taco Bell Arena.
“We got over the (New Mexico loss) pretty much the day after, started working on it, working on the tweaks we needed to make sure that doesn’t ever happen again,” senior guard/forward Anthony Drmic said. “Hopefully we can show that going forward.”
Boise State (18-10, 9-6 Mountain West), which lost five of its previous seven games, outrebounded the Rebels 41-29 in the game and held a 23-6 advantage in second-chance points. The Broncos are tied for third in the conference, a half-game behind Fresno State for second.
Using a 32-10 run to turn a four-point deficit into a 71-53 lead with 7:25 to play, Boise State put together one of its best finishes in a season that has lacked them. Boise State coach Leon Rice said a switch to a zone defense sparked the start of the big run, and in the second half alone, the Broncos pulled down 19 rebounds to the Rebels’ nine.
“We were kind of relentless,” said Rice, whose team had a season-high 20 offensive rebounds.
Drmic continued what Rice on Monday called a “resurgence.” He had 21 points against the Rebels (16-13, 7-9), and has 80 points on 28-of-51 shooting in his last four games since moving into a bench role. He had 12 of his points during the Broncos’ pivotal run.
With three regular-season and at least one conference tournament game left, he is 58 points shy of breaking Tanoka Beard’s school record of 1,944 career points.
“I just want to win, the more we win, the more games we play, the better chance I have of breaking the record,” Drmic said.
The Rebels played the game with only six healthy scholarship players, besieged by injuries, and faded in the second half as the Broncos caught fire.
Sorely needing a strong final 20 minutes after holding a 35-34 lead at halftime, Boise State shot 56.3 percent in the second half. In all five of its losses since a Jan. 27 defeat at UNLV, the Broncos held the lead with 14 minutes or fewer remaining.
“It was a great win, because we’ve struggled in the second half, start of the second half, finishing games — having this be a game we finish, I feel like we can learn from this, continue playing aggressive, continue to finish games strong,” said senior guard Mikey Thompson, who had 20 points.
Boise State overcame a big lull to take a slim 35-34 lead at halftime over UNLV. The Broncos closed the half on a 9-0 run of their own over the last 3:16 to take the lead back. The Broncos were 13-of-39 (33.3 percent) in the first half, the Rebels 12-of-29 (41.4 percent). UNLV missed its last six shots going into the break. Freshman forward Derrick Jones had a game-high 25 points on 7-of-8 shooting and 11-of-12 free throw shooting.
In the win, junior forward James Webb III had 17 points and 12 rebounds for the Broncos, leaving with 4:30 to play with a knee injury. He went to the locker room, but returned in the final minutes with ice on his right knee. Rice didn’t know the extent of it after the game, but said he was walking around after and that the team would be cautious.
There was no drama in having two of the three officials who overruled Webb’s game-winner Feb. 10 at Colorado State. It never was an issue with a double-digit lead the last 10:06. Next up, the Broncos face a big road task against Mountain West-leading San Diego State, getting back a little momentum with Tuesday’s win.
“This team, throughout the year, has been a team where they have their flaws and do some goofy things sometimes, but you can’t ever fault their effort,” Boise State coach Leon Rice said. “... you’ve gotta love them for that. They find ways to get some stuff done.”
Boise State plays at San Diego State at 4 p.m. Saturday (CBSSN)