RENO, Nev. — The beauty of basketball can also be what makes it so painful.
One shot — as the clock hits zero — to decide who wins and who loses.
The Boise State men’s basketball team was on the wrong side of it Friday night in a heartbreaking 74-72 loss to the Nevada Wolf Pack at the Lawlor Events Center.
Nevada’s Grant Sherfield scored with 2.9 seconds left to give the Wolf Pack the lead, and a long 3-pointer as time expired from RayJ Dennis rimmed out as the Broncos fell in excruciating fashion.
“It was such a hard fought game and both teams played really good and it was back and forth,” Boise State coach Leon Rice told the Idaho Press. “They just made one more shot than us.”
Derrick Alston Jr. had 23 points, Emmanuel Akot had a career-best 19 and Abu Kigab had 15 for the Broncos — but it was the three points that RayJ Dennis nearly had that decided the game.
Dennis banked in a floater with 31.3 seconds left to tie the game, but Sherfield drove in the lane and scored on a fadeaway to put the Wolf Pack up 74-72 with 2.9 seconds left.
The Broncos called timeout and ran a perfect play to get the look they wanted. Alston inbounded to Marcus Shaver Jr. in the middle of the court and he found a streaking Dennis down the side. The sophomore pulled up from a good 10 feet behind the 3-point line and let a shot go just before the buzzer sounded.
Time seemingly stopped as both teams watched the ball sail through the air, roll all the way around the rim and somehow stay out of the hoop. Boise State’s players and coaches, many of whom had started to run onto the court to celebrate what looked like a game winner, instead either fell to the ground or stood motionless in disbelief.
“Our guys did everything they could,” Rice said. “What a good look for RayJ. He’s a clutch performer and I like him shooting that. I wouldn’t want anybody else shooting that one right there. It was halfway down. It was nuts.
“It went all the way in and rolled around inside the rim and somehow came out. ... That’s the tough part about basketball. Sometimes those go and you feel great and those don’t go and you feel terrible. But we’ll bounce back. Our guys respond.”
But that’s basketball. And that one shot changed a lot. The Broncos (15-3, 10-2 MW) fall into a tie in the loss column with Utah State atop the Mountain West standings, and they now have little-to-no margin for error moving forward as they look to secure the program’s first at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament since 2015.
Sunday’s 2 p.m. rematch on FOX Sports 1 now is essentially a must-win.
“We don’t like to lose obviously,” Akot said. “We’re a winning team and a winning program. It definitely hurts to lose, but one thing our team does really well is respond. Next game we’re going to come out with more intensity.”
For as good as Boise State was offensively — they shot better than 58% in the second half — the Wolf Pack were even better. Nevada shot 64.3% in the final 20 minutes (18 of 28), including 5 of 10 from 3-point range.
Sherfield made two shots in the final minute to put Nevada ahead.
“Games like this come down to defense and late in the game we were letting them score too much,” Akot said. “It seemed almost like they weren’t missing. We have to do a lot better job contesting shots, I have to do better job contesting shots. It’s something we’ll do next game.”
The game was back and forth throughout and neither team led by more than six. The Broncos led 65-60 on a 3-pointer from Kigab with 5:42 left and had a chance to extend the lead but couldn’t. Desmond Cambridge then banked in a 3-pointer with 4:13 left to cut the lead to 65-63.
“That was the crucial play,” Rice said. “We were on the verge of maybe getting some space from them.”
Nevada tied the game at 65-all, but Akot gave the Broncos the lead at 70-67 on a big 3-pointer with 2:40 left. But the Wolf Pack answered with a 3-pointer from Cambridge to tie the game at 70 with 2:17 left and went up 72-70 on a floater from the Wichita State transfer Sherfield with 55.6 left.
Dennis hit his first shot to tie the game, but couldn’t get the final one to go as time expired.
“It’s hard but I don’t want them to put it behind them yet,” Rice said. “We’ll give them a little bit of time to get their minds right and then they’ll regroup. But it’s not easy to lose a game like that because they gave everything they had. We’re going to have to play better because this team is good. You’re going to have to come out and beat them and they are hard to beat.”
Cambridge had 21 points and Sherfield for Nevada (13-7, 8-5 MW), which sits in fifth place in the Mountain West standings.
The Broncos did plenty of encouraging things Friday. Alston hit some huge 3-pointers off offensive rebounds and Akot had the best game of his career with a career-best four 3-pointers. Boise State also made 11 of 25 from 3-point range and won the rebounding battle 33-28.
But the final shots were all that mattered in the end. One went in, and one didn’t.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Akot said. “But it’s basketball. We just have to come back harder the next game.”