LAS VEGAS — Who knows what will happen when the Boise State men’s basketball team faces the top-seeded Nevada Wolf Pack on Thursday in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West Tournament.
The Broncos are just thankful to have a shot.
Eighth-seeded Boise State extended its season by at least a day with a 66-57 win over No. 9 Colorado State on Wednesday in the opening round at the Thomas and Mack Center.
It’s the first win in the Mountain West Tournament since 2015 for the Broncos, who were upset in the quarterfinals in each of the past three seasons. And it keeps their season going for at least another day. The Broncos will face Nevada at 1 p.m. MDT Thursday on CBS Sports Network.
“Our backs are against the wall right now, but we know anything’s possible in this tournament,” senior Zach Haney said. “Like I’ve stressed over and over again, this team has a lot of fight left in us, and we’re going to give that until the clock hits zero.”
Boise State (13-19) carried over the momentum from a blowout win over Air Force in the regular-season finale last Saturday, leading by as many as 13 points in the first half and overcoming a Colorado State run midway through the second half to pull away for the win.
Derrick Alston had 17 points to lead the Broncos while Haney added 16 points and seven rebounds.
The 57 points from Colorado State were the fewest it scored all season, as the Broncos led pretty much from start to finish — they only trailed by one point early and had a lead for 39 minutes, 13 seconds — in what figures to be a confidence-building win.
“I loved the way our guys approached this game,” Boise State coach Leon Rice said. “We came out with a really good defensive intensity and held a team that’s been really, really scoring well to 57 points. I was really proud of our guys. We really battled and I think we kind of had some really, really good moments where we played good on offense and defense.
“We had a good mojo to us and made simple plays. And we competed. In a game like that, that’s what you’ve got to do to come down with the win.”
The Broncos started both senior centers for the second straight game. David Wacker and Haney hadn’t played together on the court all season before they started and played well in the Senior Night win over Air Force. But it worked so well that they decided to roll with it again.
And it again paid off as Nico Carvacho, the nation’s leading rebounder at 13.2 points per game coming in, was held to 12 and five rebounds against the bigger Boise State lineup.
In what could have been his final college game, Haney made 6 of his 9 shots and had four offensive rebounds, two assists and two steals in one of his better all-around games of the season.
“I just know that my time here is kind of winding down, so I’m just trying to give it all I’ve got,” Haney said. “It’s my last ride. It’s my last time in the tournament and I just want to give everything I’ve got left in my tank for my teammates and just win as many games as we can and win this tournament.”
A back-and-forth game was tied at 16 midway through the first half when the Broncos ripped off a 10-0 run, capped by a nice inside move from RJ Williams and a jumper from Justinian Jessup, to go up 26-16 with 4:45 left in the half. After a bucket from Colorado State, the Broncos scored the next five points on another basket from Williams and a 3-pointer by Alex Hobbs to open up a 31-18 lead with 3:20 left.
But two bad Boise State turnovers led to Colorado State buckets, and the Rams ended the half with an 8-2 spurt to cut the Broncos’ lead to 33-26 at the break.
The Rams kept the run going to start the second half, trimming the Boise State lead to 37-35 on a 3-pointer from J.D. Paige with 14:30 to go. The Colorado State run was 17-6 before a baseline jumper from Alex Hobbs made it 39-35. Boise State pushed the lead to seven, but Colorado State answered right back and trailed just 42-40 on a bucket from Paige with 11:35 to play.
But Jessup corralled a loose ball and found Alston for a 3-pointer in the corner to give the Broncos a 45-40 lead. Colorado State never got any closer the rest of the game.
“That was a big shot, no doubt about it,” Rice said. “And at a time where we needed it. That’s what you have to do in the tournament. Nobody is going to roll over, everybody is playing for their lives, and you have to be able to respond to those challenges and these guys did that.”
A layup from Jessup and two free throws from Alston quickly pushed Boise State’s lead to 49-40, and a dunk from Alston and a 3-pointer from Marcus Dickinson extended the margin to 55-42 with 5:05 to play in the game.
The Broncos made their free throws down the stretch to seal the win.
Hobbs finished with 12 points and Dickinson had 10. The Broncos shot 51.2 percent from the field and made 19 of 24 free throws.
Paige had 25 points to lead the Rams.
Not many will give the Broncos a chance Thursday afternoon against the top-seeded Wolf Pack, but the situation could be prime for them to at least keep it close. Nevada has sat around in Vegas for two days and has plenty of pressure to win the tournament, while the Broncos seemingly are playing with house money.
After being on the other side of tournament upsets before, the Broncos will gladly welcome the underdog role.
“You’d be surprised how big of a difference it is when you don’t have any pressure,” Dickinson said. “You can just play freely and with nothing to lose. We’re just having fun and competing and whatever happens, happens. We just want to keep this thing rolling.”