RENO — Big games often times don’t live up to the pre-game hype. This one did.
Nevada made seven clutch free throws in the final 2-minutes 36-seconds to outlast Boise State, 74-68, before a season-high 11,164 fans Saturday night at Lawlor Events Center.
Nevada remained unbeaten in Mountain West play at 7-0 (18-3 overall). Boise State fell to 6-2 in conference and 16-4 overall.
The seven free throws were part of a game-ending 14-5 run by the Wolf Pack that wiped out a 63-60 Boise State lead, and kept Nevada unbeaten in league and stretched its win streak to 15 straight at home, the third-longest streak in school history.
Lindsey Drew, Jordan Caroline and Hallice Cooke had two each, and Josh Hall added one from the line. Neither team scored a field goal in the last 2-minutes 30-seconds.
“Anybody that saw that game, it was like a heavyweight fight going back and forth,” Nevada coach Eric Musselman said. “I thought we had some incredible hustle plays.
“Our ability to defend 3-point line was crucial (3-for-21). We made defensive stops when we had to. There are two or three possessions I want to watch on Monday when we get together again, and see us flying around. I thought we played with great desperation when we were down.”
Five straight points by Caleb Martin (28 points) started the comeback and gave the Pack a 65-63 lead with 3:36 left. Chandler Hutchison (27 points) tied the game, and then Drew put Nevada ahead to stay with two free throws at the 2:36 mark. Drew then stole the ball and fed Martin for a lay-up and a 69-65 lead with 2:31 remaining.
“That was huge,” Martin said. “Hutchison didn’t want to foul me. I tried to lean into him a little bit.”
Hutchison made it 69-67, but a free throw by Hall made it 70-67. Cooke forced a turnover with 13 seconds left, and he was fouled on the ensuing inbounds play. He made both shots to make it 72-67.
Nevada played a phenomenal first half, holding Boise State to 38.7 shooting, including 1-for-9 from beyond the arc, and the Pack turned the ball over just three times.
The Pack closed out the last three minutes of the half with a 9-4 run thanks to two 3-pointers from Caleb Martin and one from Kendall Stephens to take a 35-29 advantage.
Caleb Martin and Caroline led Nevada’s offense with 13 apiece, and Stephens added nine. Those were the only three Nevada players that scored in the first half. That trio went 12-for-24, but the rest of the team went 0-for-8.
The game’s finish wiped out an ugly start to the second half. Nevada lost the lead, as Boise State went on a 12-1 run to take a 41-36 lead with 16:48 left to play.
“We were careless with the ball especially me,” Caleb Martin said. “I had four turnovers, and I had two or three in that same little segment. Stop being so careless. I beat myself up a little bit.
“We came out in the second half sluggish; content with the lead that we had. We were not aggressive or had the attention to detail we had in the first half. Coach said we still have to be in attack mode.”
Nevada re-took the lead, 45-43, with a 9-2 run of its own. Cody Martin had his only points of the game, and Caroline drained a key 3-pointer.
Musselman liked how they responded.
“They stole the momentum from us,” he said. “We were too lax coming out of the half. We had a couple of turnovers that we didn’t get back; jogged back. We got sloppy with the ball. You aren’t going to play a perfect game against Boise State. Through a stretch they handled us, and we responded.”
In the last eight-plus minutes, the game was tied four times. The score was tied nine times and there were 10 lead changes, which is what you would expect from the top two teams in the conference.
“It was a great win,” Musselman said. “We’ll enjoy it until midnight, and then turn the page and get ready for Wyoming.”