Boise State defeats UNLV 87-76 in a Mountain West Quarterfinals overtime thriller

Marlei Soderquist | The Arbiter

The Boise State men’s basketball team advanced to the next round of the Mountain West tournament after a thrilling 87-76 overtime win over the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

The Mountain West quarterfinals game lived up to the March playoff hype with a game that kept fans engaged from start to finish.

“It’s what everyone dreams about,” fifth-year senior forward Naje Smith said. “Those few days … filled with basketball, basketball, basketball … it starts with taking care of your body and then showing up mentally and just a dog fight … you just have to be prepared to dig in.” 

Sophomore forward Tyson Degenhart, fifth-year guard Marcus Shaver Jr. and senior guard Max Rice each made a shot behind the arc in the early minutes of the game to carry the Broncos into a 9-0 lead. 

Junior guard Chibuzo Agbo continued Boise State’s court domination with four-point play increasing an already well-established lead to 23-10. 

The team’s hustle and dominance was on display throughout the entire first half. 

Shaver made an aggressive diving play to save a ball going out of bounds leading to an incredible behind-the-back dunk by Smith

These flashy plays lit up the entire arena and kept Bronco Nation energetic and lively.

Freshman guard Jace Whiting hit a buzzer-beating jumper, giving the Broncos a 50-34 lead heading into halftime.

The first half performance by the Broncos was near perfect on both the offense and defensive end.

The Broncos shot 70% from the field and converted 71% of their three-point shots on offense. The team also blocked two Rebel shots and held them to 47% from the field and 50% from three.

With 10 three-pointers in the half, the Broncos were well on their way to breaking a Mountain West tournament record of 17 made threes in a tournament game.

Despite being down 16 points, the Runnin’ Rebels opened up the second half of the contest with ferocity. 

The Rebels pulled the game within four points with less than 13 minutes remaining. 

With the Broncos unable to score much on the offensive end and struggling to guard the red hot Rebels on the defensive side, the once “blowout” game turned into a nail-biter.

The three-point shots that were easily falling for the Broncos in the first half were being missed in the second half. 

The Broncos were 15% (2-13) from three and just 31% (8-26) from the field in the second half.

The Rebels took the lead over 67-65 with less than four minutes remaining. 

A back-and-forth competition ensued until Degenhart was forced to call a timeout. 

After the timeout, the Broncos were somewhat revived by a Smith three-pointer, but it wasn’t enough to solidify a distinct lead. 

A Shaver three was quickly followed with a three by UNLV’s Luis Rodriguez to narrow the Broncos’ lead 72-70.

The second half ended with a series of replays. 

One of the last deciding turnovers and out-of-bounds calls were reversed in favor of a Bronco possession with just 43 seconds remaining.

UNLV’s Shane Nowell scrambled for the ball and fought for control against Degenhart until he was able to make enough space, beat the buzzer and force overtime with a clean shot from the corner.

Similar to the opening moments of the game, the Broncos dominated the opening series of overtime due to strong efforts by Smith, Agbo and Degenhart. 

The team made a callback to last season by missing vital free throws this game. Shaver was faulty from the line, as was Degenhart in big moments. 

However, Max Rice came up big for the Broncos as he knocked down two foul shots, followed by two made free throws from Smith. 

“It shows how resilient together we are as a team,” Smith said. “Together since the beginning of the new season, this is what we think about … we work towards it so it’s nice to see our hard work paying off … you can definitely tell with the structure, we’re the most connected … how we stay together, that’s what helped us.”

Despite playing at Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, home of the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels, Bronco fans showed up and showed out — filling nearly the entire allotted section for Boise State. There were even Utah State fans rooting for the Rebels.

“We find a way,” head coach Leon Rice said. “That’s also a part of this. That’s also our identity that we just find a way. It doesn’t matter what the circumstances are. We accomplish the mission.”

As the Broncos were able to solidify the 87-76 “survive and advance” win, they were able to break a record along the way. 

With 87 points on the night, it makes it the most points scored by Boise State in a Mountain West Tournament game.

The Broncos will face Utah State at 9 p.m (PST) at Thomas and Mack Arena.

[Boise State defeats UNLV in the Mountain West quarterfinals.]
Marlei Soderquist | The Arbiter

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