The Boise State Broncos used a late 3-pointer by Emmanuel Akot to secure a 74-70 win over BYU on Wednesday night. This early-season matchup was a key clash between two mid-major conferences vying for multiple NCAA Tournament bids. The Broncos didn’t just help their case; they saved the Mountain West from a disastrous start to the season.
Boise State Broncos Defeat BYU Cougars 74-70 in Provo
The score was deadlocked at 70 with 20 seconds left in the game. Boise State Head Coach Leon Rice called a timeout to rest his overworked players. The Broncos were already without redshirt junior starter Marcus Shaver, and Lukas Milner and Mladen Armus both fouled out with a good chunk of the second half remaining. Even Akot and Abu Kigab, the young man presented with the tall task of guarding BYU’s 7-3 center Matt Haarms, had four fouls. Fortunately for the Broncos, both managed to stay on the court.
“We got some toughness to us,” Rice told the media about his team’s resilience. “We were down and without Marcus tonight which led to heavy minutes for a lot of guys.”
One such player was guard Rayj Dennis who played a game-high 37 minutes. Rice and the coaching staff asked both Akot and Dennis for just a few more seconds, and they delivered.
After the Broncos broke their huddle, Akot received the inbounds pass and swung the ball to Dennis. The guard drove to the baseline before smartly kicking it back across court to Akot—who the Cougars seemingly forgot about. The Arizona-transfer buried the three, finishing with a career-high 13 points in just his second game for Boise State. Dennis added a career-high 19 points and a game-high five assists in the Broncos win.
The play design was a fitting option because the Broncos shot an efficient 60% from distance in the game. Rice said of the game-winner, “What a great play by RayJ at the end. He found a wide open [Akot], and [Akot] made a big three. I’m so happy for him and all these guys.”
The Broncos should be happy; BYU is a solid team. The Cougars are picked to finish 2nd in the West Coast Conference this year, and most likely are a lock for the NCAA Tournament.
Rice added, “They’re a good basketball team, I know that. So for us to come in here to BYU and win when they battled back, we had to respond, and just to do it in the fashion that we did…that was big.”
Boise State wins it for the Mountain West
Like BYU, Boise State is also selected to finish 2nd in their conference. However, the Mountain West has struggled this season. Utah State and UNLV, picked to finish 3rd and 4th in the conference respectively, are off to atrocious starts. The teams have a combined record of 3-7, and wins against the College of Idaho and a faltering Kansas State team aren’t considered quality. Both Colorado State and New Mexico have yet to play a game this season, and San Diego State is rummaging for games just to play. The No. 24 Aztecs, though, have good wins against UCLA and Pepperdine.
Wyoming is 4-1, but outside of their win against Oregon State, the Cowboys have beaten programs like Incarnate Word. Nevada has been strong, also sitting at 4-1, but the Wolf Pack’s lopsided loss to San Francisco tells two tales. The Mountain West is wavering and the WCC is strong—especially in the top half of each.
This is why Boise State’s victory is so important. These two generally overlooked and undervalued conferences will have programs competing for bubble spots come March. The WCC expects to get three invitations to the Tournament, possibly even four. The Mountain West would be lucky to get two at the moment.
The Broncos suffered an opening-game defeat to now-No. 7 Houston as the only blemish to their record thus far. That’s not a bad loss. If the team can continue to compete at a high level, they could possibly win the Mountain West, or gain an at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament.
Boise State’s win meant more than BYU’s loss, but the rest of the Mountain West needs to start playing better. The Broncos not only bolstered their resume, they kept the conference relevant—for now.
The Boise State Broncos have two more games scheduled against WCC opponents, including undefeated Santa Clara. Mountain West conference play is set to begin on Dec. 31 (pandemic pending).