With the top two teams squaring off in the Mountain West Conference Wednesday night at Extra Mile Arena in Boise, Idaho, the hosts finished strong to move into first place.
Boise State made plays down the stretch to knock Utah State from atop the men’s basketball standings. The Broncos made more than enough free throws in the final minutes to record a 79-70 win. It was a rare game that was not decided in the final seconds between these two as most have been over the last few years.
“It was a good college basketball game,” USU head coach Craig Smith said. “Credit to Boise State. They made some big plays down the stretch.”
The Aggies (14-6, 11-3 MW) held a 51-48 lead with 14 minutes to play when Alphonso Anderson scored off of an offensive rebound. The contest was knotted at 60-60 with 8:14 left when Neemias Queta scored for USU.
A 3-pointer by RoyJ Dennis gave the Broncos (17-4, 13-3) the lead for good, and Marcus Shaver Jr. hit a dagger trey with the shoot clock about to expire and the Broncos up a point.
"They made some big shots," Smith said. "One play never wins or loses a game, but Shaver's three flipped the momentum, and they got some mojo going."
The win kept Boise State perfect at home this season as it improved to 10-0. It was also the first time the Broncos were allowed to have fans with 679 in attendance of 900 allowed.
The Aggies were without starting guard Rollie Worster, who had a boot on his right foot and did not dress or the game. Steven Ashworth started in his place.
"He (Worster) has a lower leg injury and has been dealing with it or a little while now," Smith said. "We'll see how things progress. Rollie is a tough, tough kid. We have to approach it day by day."
Queta had a career night with a game-best 32 points. He also had a double-double with a game-best 10 rebounds.
“I thought it would be a good game for me to be aggressive,” Queta said. “I thought I could take advantage of some things.”
Joining Queta in double-figure scoring was Marco Anthony (11) and Justin Bean (10). Ashworth had six assists.
The Broncos were led by Derrick Alston with 26 points. Shaver added 12 points. Mladen Armus grabbed seven rebounds before fouling out.
"I thought we did a pretty good job on the offensive end," Queta said. "We could score any time we wanted to. I felt like on the defensive end, we just gave up a lot of shots late. Kudos to them, they hit a lot of big shots. We just have to pick it up and move on."
The Broncos scored the first four points of the game, and the Aggies played catch up most of the opening half. Boise State enjoyed a 9-4 lead four minutes into the contest and then built a 20-12 advantage for its largest lead.
USU used a 7-0 run to get back in the game. Sean Bairstow drilled a 3-pointer off a pass from Brock Miller to spark the surge. Queta then had two dunks as the Aggies got within 20-19 with 9:32 left before halftime.
After the fourth tie of the first half, USU had four possessions where it could have taken the lead, but failed to do so. The Aggies continued to hang around.
Over the final 2:16 of the first half, there were three lead changes and three ties. Queta gave USU its first lead of the game, 33-31, with a pair of free throws. Ashworth found Bean for a layup just before the break, and the Aggies took a 39-37 lead into the break.
Queta had 14 points at halftime, while Alston had 18 for the Broncos over the first 20 minutes.
The Broncos scored first in the second half, but the Aggies responded with two buckets. USU’s biggest lead was four as it could never build a cushion.
“We gave ourselves a chance to win against an excellent team, but tonight was not our night,” Smith said.
Utah State began the day at No. 51 in the NET rankings, while Boise State checked in at No. 37. … The Aggies won the rebound battle, 37-32, for the 20th straight game this season and are 66-14 under head coach Craig Smith when that happens. … Neemias Queta now has 22 career double-doubles which ties Spencer Nelson for 10th on the school career list. Queta also tied Nelson for career double-digit rebound games with 29. … Marco Anthony had a career-high four steals. … The Aggies still lead the all-time series with the Broncos, 34-17.
MW ROAD WARRIORS
The Aggies certainly have been that under head coach Craig Smith. Since his arrival, USU has won 23 games against league opponents away from home, which ranks second among the top 13 conferences in the nation.
The leader is Gonzaga with 25 conference wins against opponents away from Spokane, Washington. Virginia (21), Dayton (19) and Houston (19) round out the top five.
TRIO OF AGGIES
Before the series with Boise State started, USU was the only team in the MW with three players ranked among the top 10 in rebounds per game in league play. Neemias Queta is second with 9.4 boards per game, Justin Bean is sixth at 7.0, and Marco Anthony is 10th at 5.8.
The Aggies are also the only school in the MW with three players ranked among the top 10 in assists per game in conference action. Rollie Worster is fourth with 3.8 an outing, followed by Anthony in eighth with 3.2 and Queta in 10th with 3.0.
There is no question who gets this. Neemias Queta had a career night in the scoring department with 32 points on 12 of 21 shooting from the field and 8 of 9 from the foul line. The junior also grabbed 10 rebounds for his 22nd career double-double. Queta also blocked two shots and played 32 minutes.
AGGIE DUNK COUNT
Midway through the opening half, Neemias Queta grabbed a rebound and slammed it home. On the very next USU possession, Steven Ashworth found Queta for another two-handed dunk. Four minutes later Justin Bean tossed an alley-oop pass to the big man, and Queta threw it down.
There was more of Queta in the second half. He backed in for a left-hand, one-handed dunk, then took an nifty alley-oop from Ashworth for a slam. Brock Miller got in the action with pass for a Queta dunk. Alphonso Anderson joined in with a two-hand throw down off a Ashworth pass.
Season dunk count: Queta 34, Bean 6, Trevin Dorius 6, Marco Anthony 4, Anderson 3, Szymon Zapala 2, Sean Bairstow 1, Miller 1.
The Aggies will remain in the Gem State for another game with the Broncos. Tipoff for the second game is set for 8 p.m. on Friday at Extra Mile Arena. The game will be televised on FS1.