Wolf Pack hits a season-high 30-of-34 shots from the line, completes regular-season sweep of Boise
RENO – Free throws aren’t sexy.
They’re mundane. They stop the clock. They’re as fun to watch as four wide ones on the diamond.
You know what is sexy? First place.
Nevada shot 29 second-half free throws on Wednesday night to pull away from Boise State for an 85-77 win to remain atop the Mountain West in front of an announced crowd of 8,625 at Lawlor Events Center.
Nevada (22-6, 11-4) hit 30-of-34 shots from the free throw line to complete the season sweep of Boise State and remain in a tie with Colorado State for first place. Boise (17-9, 10-5) connected on 11-of-16 free throws, dropping into third place.
“I thought our ability to knock down free throws tonight, obviously down the stretch (was big),” Musselman said.
The Wolf Pack entered as the Mountain West’s second-worst free-throw shooting team (69 percent) and set a season-high for freebies made. The previous high was 27 in the win at Wyoming (also on 34 attempts).
Senior transfer Marcus Marshall went 15-of-16 at the line, including going 11-for-11 over the final 4:15 to keep the Broncos at arm’s length.
“It (free-throw shooting) was very important. Obviously, that’s a great free-throw shooting game,” said Marshall, who finished with a game-high 26 points despite shooting just 4-of-13 from the field. “We needed those foul shots because Boise played us tough.”
With just three games left (two on the road), Musselman wasn’t was shy about the victory’s significance. He went as far to say he thought the team’s regular-season title hopes would’ve dissipated with a loss.
“When you’re playing for first place this late in the season, you understand you want to try to own tiebreakers. I thought it was really important and we couldn’t lose this game,” he said. “If we would’ve lost the game, I think our hopes of trying to win a regular-season (title) would’ve been out the door.”
Marshall was one of three Nevada players to break the 20-point threshold. Jordan Caroline finished with 21 points on 8-of-12 shooting to go along with seven rebounds and Cam Oliver also turned in 21 points (on 6-of-11 shooting, 7-of-8 from the line) on top of his game-high 11 rebounds. It was his ninth double-double of the season.
Nevada won the battle on the glass, 33-29.
“I thought we rebounded the heck out of the basketball,” Musselman said.
Clinging to a one-point lead with 5:41 left, Oliver was fouled on a shot from beyond the arc and hit all three shots to extend the lead to 68-64. The home team led the rest of the way.
Nevada, which trailed by 10 early in the second half, saw its lead remain at four, 76-72, with 47 ticks left. Oliver then hit his second triple of the night to essentially put the game away and start the party inside Lawlor.
“It was pretty loud,” said Musselman, who improved to 28-4 at Lawlor, 12-1 this year. “Our guys take great pride in defending this building. You could feel the electricity.”
Three-point shooting was the story in the first half. Boise, not a strong perimeter shooting team, hit 8-of-12 from beyond the arc in the first 20 minutes to take a 41-33 lead to the locker room. The Broncos closed the half on a 10-0 run, after Nevada started the night on a 9-0 spurt of its own.
Allowing the Broncos to take shots from deep was intentional.
“Sometimes you have to pick and choose what you want to do from a game plan. And we were not going to let (Chandler) Hutchison (19 points on 6-of-17 shooting) and (Paris) Austin (nine points on 3-of-9 shooting) get to the cup and get to the basket,” Musselman said. “That allowed some three-point shots and that’s what our decision as a group was.”
The Broncos were just 4-of-12 from three-point land in the second half to finish the night 50 percent from deep, a season-high. Including shots from inside the arc, Boise shot 46.6 percent from the floor. The Wolf Pack was slightly better, hitting 48 percent of its shots, despite connecting on just one field goal the final 7:18 – the Oliver three.
Nineteen of Nevada’s final 22 points came at the line.
The Wolf Pack hits the road for its final road trip of the season starting Saturday at UNLV (10-18, 3-12) and concluding next Wednesday at San Jose State (14-12, 7-8).
Colorado State then comes to Lawlor for the regular-season finale next Saturday with the Mountain West regular-season title potentially on the line.
“Now the key is our approach to the next two road games,” Musselman said. “We have to understand every road game is difficult. You have to play with desperation on both ends of the floor on the road. This game is behind us, it’s a great win.
“Everybody that’s associated with our program has to think about how we can win our next two, and it all starts with (Las) Vegas on Saturday.”