BOISE — The Boise State men’s basketball team is making a habit of winning with its late-game defense.
The Broncos allowed just five points in the final six minutes of the game on Tuesday, as Boise State opened the Mountain West slate with a 65-55 win against Fresno State.
It’s the seventh straight win for the Broncos (10-4, 1-0 Mountain West) and the seventh straight game Boise State has held an opponent to 60 points or fewer.
“It keeps getting better,” Boise State coach Leon Rice said about the defense. “You needed every stop down the stretch. That’s how Mountain West games are, like that. If you can’t get stops when you need them most, you’re in trouble. We have a team that hangs their hat on that.”
The Broncos have been pulling out close defensive games during their win streak, with the Broncos pulling away in the final minutes in four of them. Tuesday was no different, as the Bulldogs (10-4, 0-1) led 50-48 with 6:12 left in the game, but Boise State ended on a 17-5 run.
“We’ve been in a lot of these tough games throughout the year,” said Emmanuel Akot, who had 12 points for the Broncos. “I think we’re getting comfortable playing in these gritty games. We just kept our composure, having an experienced group, we’re just ready to go out and play. That’s what attributed to our win tonight.”
Meanwhile, Boise State closed out the game making six of its final seven shots offensively, as Boise State had multiple hot shooting moments throughout the night, particularly when Marcus Shaver Jr. was shooting the ball.
Shaver led Boise State with 18 points, scoring many of those points during crucial runs.
“I was feeling great,” Shaver said about his performance. “The fans definitely helped. As soon as one goes in, the basket gets bigger.”
Boise State started catching fire offensively midway through the first half, at one point making seven consecutive field goals. Three of those were 3-pointers, with Shaver Jr. hitting two of them.
That run allowed Boise State to extend its lead to double digits and take a 35-25 lead into halftime. The Broncos shot 13 for 20 from the field in the first 20 minutes, including 6 of 8 from 3-point range, helping to offset nine turnovers.
“You got to credit their defense, they’re a good defensive team,” Rice said about the Bulldogs. “When we did the right things, we shot 65%. Teams are going to scout Abu (Kigab), teams are going to pack the paint when he drives. When he made the simple plays, we made great shots.”
Kigab had four assists in the first half and a team-high six in the game.
But that hot feel from the floor didn’t carry over into the start of the second half, as the Broncos struggled to make shots and Orlando Robinson, who entered averaging 18.5 points per game, willed the Bulldogs back into the game.
Robinson tied the game at 48-48 on a fast break dunk, then following a defensive rebound had a layup on the other end to give Fresno State its first lead since midway through the first half. He had 15 of his 22 points in the second half.
That lead didn’t last long as Mladen Armus dunked on the other end to tie the game back up at 50-50, then following a Tyson Degenhart steal, Shaver had a jump shot at the other end to put the Broncos up for good.
Shaver followed that with a 3-pointer, his fourth of the night, extending the lead to 55-50.
“Shaver’s a baller,” Akot said. “Day in and day out, every practice he just comes to hoop, comes to compete. He’s the best teammate you could have and we really appreciate him.”
A 3-pointer by Akot capped an 11-0 Boise State run and put the Broncos ahead 59-50 with three minutes to go, a lead big enough for Boise State’s stout defense down the stretch.
Degenhart had two steals and a blocked shot during the late defensive stand, playing a key role for the Broncos despite having just six points on a pair of 3-pointers in the first half.
“We’ve got competitive guys, we’ve had practices that convinced me of that,” Rice said. “I think there’s a belief in what we’re doing and it takes all of us to be comfortable with that, knowing that’s what we can hang our hat on, that last five minutes. We’re pretty comfortable knowing we can get a stop and we will go get a stop. I think, to a man, all 23 of us know we’re where we want to be five minutes to go, tied, because we’re going to get stops.”
Boise State will be back on the court Saturday with its first Mountain West road game against Wyoming. Tipoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. on CBS Sports Network.