RENO – Every time Marcus Marshall stepped to the foul line in the fourth quarter, he was under intense pressure.
You couldn’t tell by the deadpan expression on his face. He was a picture of calmness.
Marshall missed his first free-throw attempt of the game, and then drained his next 15, including 11 straight in the final 4-plus minutes, to spark Nevada to an 85-77 win over Boise State before 8,625 fans at Lawlor Events Center.
The win gave Nevada a sweep of the season series, and kept Nevada in a tie with Colorado State for the top spot in the conference. Both teams are 11-4 with three games left. Nevada hosts CSU on March 4 in a game that could decide the regular-season championship.
Nevada outscored Boise State 52-36 in the second half, and committed just two turnovers in the final 20 minutes.
“It’s good we have that pressure (down the stretch),” Nevada coach Eric Musselman said. “Boise State is a tough team, and they really came to play. They have a locker room full of competitors.
“Ability to hit free throws down the stretch. You have a veteran leader like Marcus, you expect that. Jordan did a great job, D.J. (Fenner) and Cam (Oliver), too.”
Down the stretch, it was a heavy dose of Marshall and Oliver with a little help from Jordan Caroline. It was enough to knock off a determined Bronco squad. Marshall’s 15-for-16 effort helped Nevada go 30-for-34 for the game (88.2 percent). Nevada’s previous best was 84.6 against Fresno State.
Marshall embraced the challenge. He said he may have hit 15 straight in high school, but never in college.
“Of course,” he said when asked if he likes being in those situations. “You dream of a crowd yelling or hitting a clutch shot and things like that. Great to be in a situation like that.
“Pretty much relax, stay calm, and hit foul shots. I work on my foul shots every day. As a team we work on free throws every day.”
He gave Nevada a 70-67 lead with 4:15 left, and that started his streak. He was fouled on a 3-pointer, and nailed all three to make it 74-70 with 2:48 remaining. After the teams traded free throws, Oliver drained a big 3-pointer to make it 79-72.
After that, it was all Marshall. He made six in a 33.6-second span, cementing the win. In the last 2 minutes and 10 seconds, the Broncos never got closer than four points. Boise State’s Chandler Hutchison (19 points) missed two big lay-ups in the last two minutes.
Nevada needed all 30 of those free throws, because Boise State had a 27-24 edge in field goals, including a 12-7 edge in 3-pointers. Nick Duncan had 11 of his 19 in the opening half.
BSU used an 11-2 run late in the first to wipe out a 31-28 deficit and take a 41-33 lead at half. The Broncos were 8-for-12 from distance. Reserves Zach Haney and Alex Hobbs played a key role in the surge.
The 3-pointers didn’t surprise Musselman, who said you have to pick your poison in terms of what you want to stop and what you will give up.
“They are a good 3-point shooting team,” Musselman said. “We weren’t going to let Hutchison (19 points) and Paris Austin (9) beat us. We knew that would allow some 3-pointers. That is a decision we made as a group. We have been one of the best teams in the nation defending the 3-ball.
Musselman was dismayed by Nevada’s 10 first-half turnovers and the fact Boise State outplayed his squad after the Pack opened the game with a 9-0 run. He said after the game that ball security was an issue.
“We played harder in the second half,” Fenner said. “We wanted to make sure that we left it on the court and have no regrets after the game.”
And they didn’t.