Nevada (10-7, 3-1 WAC) dominated play in the final seven minutes to knock off Boise State (12-4, 3-1). After trailing by as much as 16 on two different occasions, the visiting Broncos fought back to within four, 55-51, following a Kurt Cunningham layup with 7:29 to go in the contest.
It was all Nevada from there. The Wolf Pack scored 13 of the next 16 points, forging ahead 68-54 and leaving three minutes left in the WAC affair. Nevada pushed its lead to 16 points two more times in the final two minutes and was never threatened down the stretch.
“When you’re playing from behind … it takes a lot of energy to make a run and come back,” Nevada coach Mark Fox said. “Eventually, you wear down. We made good decisions. We didn’t have a lot of turnovers tonight so we gave ourselves a chance to sustain our lead.”
The Wolf Pack did watch a 16-point first-half lead nearly evaporate as Boise State got within four by halftime, 31-27. Nevada regained the momentum with a strong surge to open the second half. The Wolf Pack, which was the preseason favorite to win the WAC, initiated the second-half scoring with a 14-2 spurt, capped by an Armon Johnson floater that made the scoreboard read 45-29 less than four minutes after halftime.
Johnson led all scorers by pouring in 25 points.
“We got a little comfortable at times,” Johnson said. “And coach reminded us, ‘Don’t get comfortable. This is a good team. They can always come back.’ We focused on that and finished them off.”
Nevada ’s lead was still 16, 49-33, with 14 minutes to go in the game, but Boise State did not roll over and die. An 18-6 Broncos’ run got them back to the 55-51 margin before the Wolf Pack sealed the victory in crunchtime.
The shooting numbers were relatively even. Nevada converted 27-of-63 field-goal attempts compared to Boise State ’s 26-of-61. The big scoring difference between the two teams was at the charity stripe. Nevada canned 20-of-30 foul shots while Boise State was limited to 5-of-10.
The Wolf Pack won the war on the boards, 43-37 and pulled down 13 offensive rebounds to Boise State’s six. That advantage helped the Wolf Pack outscore the Broncos 14-4 in second-chance points.
There weren’t many fireworks through the first nine minutes of the first half. Nevada led 17-11 after Boise State’s Cunningham dropped in a layup with 10:51 remaining before halftime.
The Wolf Pack proceeded to briefly grab the momentum. Nevada reeled off 10 unanswered points in a three-minute span and pushed its lead to 16, 27-11, following a Joey Shaw putback with 7:48 still left before the break.
Unfortunately for Wolf Pack fans, Boise State dominated play into the intermission. Nevada managed just one point, a Luke Babbitt free throw, over the next five-plus minutes. In that stretch, Boise State trimmed the Nevada lead to three, 28-25. Broncos forward Mark Sanchez capped the 14-1 BSU outburst with a layup at the 2:56 mark of the first half.
“We started the game very well,” Fox said. “Our defense was outstanding to start the game. Boise is a good basketball team and they understand how to win. We knew they would come back.”
Babbitt contributed 18 points and 10 rebounds to Nevada’s winning cause.
“I think we’ve grown a lot,” Babbitt said. “I think the road trip helped us. I think we’re growing everyday. I think we have the right mindset in practice. Everyday, we’re just trying to get better.”
La’Shard Anderson and Anthony Thomas posted 14 and 13 points respectively to pace the Boise State offensive attack.
Nevada returns to action Saturday with another WAC home game, hosting Fresno State at 7:05 p.m.