Boise State wins a thriller against N.M. State | NevadaAppeal.com
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Boise State wins a thriller against N.M. State

DARRELL MOODY
Appeal Sports Writer

LAS CRUCES, N.M. – If you have a weak heart, the WAC championship game wasn’t for you.

If you like plenty of drama with more twists and turns than the scariest ride at your favorite amusement park, then you reveled in the opportunity to witness one of the most exciting basketball games in conference history.

Boise State overcame one physical mistake at the end of regulation and a mental gaffe at the end of the first overtime, and then outscored New Mexico State 15-10 in the third overtime to grab a 107-102 win Saturday night at the Pan American Center.

The victory sends the Broncos, 25-8, back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 14 years and it was the school’s first-ever WAC title. It was the first triple overtime in BSU history and the first triple overtime championship game in WAC Tournament history.

“I’m so proud of what they have done,” said BSU coach Greg Graham, who makes his first NCAA appearance as a head coach. “At times people sold them short but they wouldn’t give up.

“We’ve hung in there and raised the bar at Boise State. We made enough big plays at the right time.”

The biggest one was made by Anthony Thomas, whose unneeded foul of Hatila Passos with 3.6 seconds left enabled the Aggies to tie the game at 80.

With the Broncos holding grimly to a 99-97 lead with 56.6 seconds left in the third overtime, Thomas drove the length of the floor between a pair of defenders and dropped in a tough lay-up despite being fouled by Herb Pope, who fouled out of the game on that play. Thomas’ free throw gave Boise State a 102-97 lead with 42 seconds remaining.

“I am glad I even had the chance to contribute like that,” said Thomas, who contributed 13 points, four assists and five rebounds in the win. “I had a dumb foul on Passos when we could have won. I wanted to redeem myself when I went in for that layup.”

Thomas’ play made it a two-possession game, and drove the proverbial dagger into the hearts of New Mexico State and most of the 10,921 in attendance.

“I told Anthony that the game wasn’t over yet and that he hadn’t lost it for us,” said BSU forward Matt Nelson, who scored 26 points and grabbed nine rebounds before fouling out in the second overtime. “He made up for it and carried us to victory.”

Inside the final minute of the third OT, the Broncos also got a free throw by tournament MVP Reggie Larry (career-high 31 points, 16 rebounds), two free throws by Paul Noonan and two by Thomas. All five were in the face of a wild and crazy bunch of NMSU fans.

NMSU coach Marvin Menzies pointed to Thomas’ play as the key one.

“That one hurt us,” Menzies said. “It gave them an opportunity to hold the ball and manage the clock. He’s a hard guy to guard. We knew he was going to drive it. It was probably the deciding drive that ended the game.

“I’m awfully disappointed. Awfully hurt and disappointed but extremely proud and honored. We fought until the last tick. They made big shots in the last 1:40 or so. Defensive stops were also part of the equation. We didn’t get the ones we needed in the third overtime.”

Boise State used a quick burst to build an early 17-3 lead, as Larry scored nine and Tyler Tiedeman hit a 3-pointer.

“We struggled against their zone,” Menzies said. “We knew it was coming, but we hadn’t played against one for quite some time.”

The Aggies cut the lead to 34-27 at the half, but Boise went on an 18-9 run to get the lead to 16, 52-36, with 17:45 left.

The lead stayed in double digits until the Aggies went on a 12-3 run to slice the Broncos’ lead to 61-59 with 4:29 left on a Fred Peete jump shot. Treys by Tiedeman and Matt Bauscher (14 points) made it 69-63 at the 2:03 mark.

The Aggies went on an 8-1 run that featured 3-pointers by Peete and Jonathan Gibson. It was Gibson’s 3-pointer that gave NMSU a 71-70 lead with 24 seconds left.

Boise was forced to take a timeout while trying to inbound the ball. Once the ball was in play, it got to Larry’s hands and he was fouled by Martin Iti, who fouled out of the game.

Larry, who struggled at the line with a 64.2 average during the season, airballed the first free throw, much to the delight of the noisy crowd. He drained the second one, tying the game at 71. Peete missed a potential game-winning jump shot right before the buzzer.

“It was clutch time,” Larry said. “It came off my left thumb. We needed those points.

“The crowd is crazy, your legs are shaking. Those were hard free throws. When we got to the next overtime I told my teammates I was over it.”

The game was tied at 73, 75 and 77 in the first overtime before Nelson’s free throw gave the Broncos a 78-77 lead with 31.5 left. NMSU had a chance to go ahead, but Passos was called for a charge. Noonan drained two free throws with 12.9 to make it 80-77.

That set the stage for the mental mistake by Thomas. Passos scored on a putback, and Thomas would have been wise to let him score because Boise still would have had a one-point lead with 3.3 left.

In the second OT, the Aggies scored seven of the first 10 points for an 87-83 lead. Buckets by Larry and Tiedeman tied the game at 87. Pope, who scored 20 points, scored on another putback for an 89-87 lead.

Larry, who played 48 minutes, scored five straight points for a 92-89 lead, but Justin Hawkins scored on consecutive possessions to tie the game at 92.

“I’ve had a great year,” Larry said. “Before the Hawaii game (tournament opener) I told everyone that I wanted to do as much as I could and make sure it wasn’t my last game.

“I’m physically drained. I got kneed in the thigh and I fell on my elbow yesterday. It’s the championship game, and tired or not you gotta go hard and I believe that.”

Hawkins’ score did set the stage for the wild third overtime.

Of the Boise players, Nelson is the only one to go to an NCAA Tournament, and he did that with Eastern Washington.

“We all knew, this team knew,” Nelson said. “Everyone doubted us, getting picked to finish fifth in preseason. We knew we had a special team. It’s an amazing feeling.”

NEVADA IN LIMBO

The Wolf Pack should find out sometime tonight whether it’s been selected to play in either the 32-team NIT or the 16-team CBI, which is in its first year.

Nevada, 21-11, eclipsed the 20-win mark for the fifth straight season. The semifinal loss to New Mexico State ended Nevada’s bid for a fifth straight NCAA appearance.

Nevada officials indicated they have put in a bid to host a game or two in both the NIT and CBI events.

Nevada has the best RPI in the conference at 76. Utah State fell from 68 to 78, while Boise State went from 101 to 94. NMSU moved from 126 to 117.