Stephens, Caleb Martin lead Nevada Wolf Pack over Boise State
Nov. 24: Nevada 67, Hawaii 54
Dec. 2: Nevada 76, UC Irvine 65
Feb. 17 — 3 p.m. at Utah State
Feb. 21 — 7 p.m. vs. San Jose State
Feb. 25 — 1 p.m. vs. Colorado State
Feb. 28 — 8 p.m. at UNLV
Mar. 3 — 7 p.m. at San Diego State
BOISE, Idaho — Twice this season, Jordan Caroline had chances to ice games from the free throw line in the final minute and failed.
He wouldn’t let a third opportunity slip away.
With just under 39 seconds left, Caroline made two free throws and helped No. 24 Nevada retake the lead in a back-and-forth game with Boise State and gut out a 77-72 victory Wednesday night in a battle for first place in the Mountain West.
Nevada (22-5, 11-2) had suffered losses to Wyoming and Texas Tech in similar situations earlier this season when Caroline didn’t convert both free throw opportunities in the final minute of those games.
This time, he found redemption at the bottom of the net.
“I think the ball is going in every time I shoot it, so I didn’t think about it much,” Caroline said. “I just thought about making it, like when I was a kid and you’re playing with a countdown and the game’s on the line.”
Boise State (20-6, 10-4), which had its school-record 13-game home winning streak snapped, had a chance to answer but struggled against Nevada’s defensive pressure.
On the ensuing possession, Broncos’ leading scorer Chandler Hutchinson made a nifty move to create space eight feet from the hoop but his shot fell short. Hutchinson snatched the loose ball rebound and hoisted a 3-point shot from the corner but it clanked off the rim.
Nevada’s Cody Martin grabbed the rebound with 10 seconds remaining and hit both free throws to put the game virtually out of reach.
The Wolf Pack held the Broncos to 40 percent shooting from the field, including just 19 percent from beyond the arc. Hutchinson finished with 10 rebounds and 13 points, well below his 20.3 average.
“I feel like we’re a good defensive team but maybe a little underrated in that area,” Nevada coach Eric Musselman said. “We were switching on Hutchinson, which helped us contain him. We gave up a few easy baskets because of the switches, but overall it helped us.”
Nevada’s long-range shooting also helped, particularly Kendall Stephens. Stephens was 6-of-8 on 3-point attempts and matched his career high with 21 points. Caleb Martin, who missed a game last week with an ankle sprain, also added 21.
The victory gives Nevada its second Quadrant I victory of the season to go along with a win over Rhode Island. Boise State remains in search of its first and likely won’t have another chance until the conference tournament.
However, the win was a costly one for Nevada as starting guard Lindsey Drew is likely out for the season with a ruptured right Achilles heel. The Wolf Pack are down to only seven scholarship players as they enter the final stretch of the regular season.
Nevada: With the win, the Wolf Pack solidified their position atop the Mountain West. Sweeping the series against Boise State gives Nevada a virtual three-game lead in conference play with five games remaining.
Boise State: Despite an impressive record, the Broncos have yet to secure a marquee win and will need to win their final four regular season games and go deep in the conference tournament to have a shot at getting selected without an automatic berth.
Nevada: The Wolf Pack travel to Utah State on Saturday.
Boise State: The Broncos host Air Force on Saturday.