BOISE – The whistle blew this time. And Abu Kigab was ready.
Two weeks after a late non-call cost the Broncos a chance to beat Colorado State, Kigab drove the lane and got a foul call with 1.7 seconds left – and hit both free throws to give Boise State a thrilling 58-57 win over San Diego State on Tuesday night at ExtraMile Arena.
“I knew I was going to make those two,” Kigab said. “I’m glad they gave us the call because at the end of the game they usually don’t call much. They let the players play and everyone kind of knows that now…”
The win improves Boise State to 22-6 overall and 13-2 in Mountain West play. The Broncos remain in first place in the conference with three games remaining – and could take big control of the race should Wyoming lose Wednesday night at Colorado State.
Boise State trailed 57-56 when Marcus Shaver Jr.’s air ball with 10 seconds left appeared to be the final dagger. Some fans even headed for the exits as San Diego State’s Matt Bradley stepped to the free throw line with 7.7 seconds left and the Aztecs up by 1.
But Bradley – an 80 percent free throw shooter – missed both shots to give the Broncos a chance. Kigab grabbed the ball and raced up the court, electing to drive towards the hoop once he saw San Diego State center Nathan Mensah was guarding him.
There was contact and Kigab fell to the floor. Referee Greg Nixon blew his whistle for a foul with 1.7 seconds left. Kigab had two shots to either lose, tie or win the game for the Broncos.
“He started going downhill and he got tripped,” Boise State coach Leon Rice said. “There was no call. The play made the call. They had to put the whistle on that. That was obvious.”
San Diego State fans are less convinced it was a foul. Multiple replays appear to show different things, and it’s hard to tell just how much contact there was that led to Kigab falling to the floor.
But after Kigab appeared to be fouled in the final seconds of regulation against Colorado State but didn’t get the call, nobody on Boise State’s side is going to apologize for being on the right side of this one.
San Diego State, which was also on the wrong side of a late non-call against Colorado State, was left to wonder what could have been had Bradley just made the two free throws.
“I slipped and collided into him and the referee made the call,” Mensah said. “No, I don’t think (it was a foul). I think you just have to let us play like they did at Colorado State. Even though Matt was fouled (at CSU), they didn’t call it then. It should be the same thing.”
Aztecs coach Brian Dutcher hadn’t seen a replay when talking to the media after the game.
“I just saw him go down, but I couldn’t see if there was contact or not. It was so far at the other end. Obviously, we don’t want to foul them at the end. We want them to make a shot to win the game. … I’m sure it was a tough one, because he fell down and they assumed there was contact.
“We have to make free throws. No one feels worse than Matt, but he’s the guy (I want) at the line. … We have to make our free throws and foul up three, and we didn’t make either one. It’s a one-point game and they step up and make two free throws. It’s a tough way to lose…”
Boise State led by 10 at the half and by as many as 11 in the second half before San Diego State stormed back. The Aztecs, who were 0 for 4 from 3-point range in the first half, made 6 of 7 from deep in the second half and took a 55-53 on a triple from Chad Baker-Mazara with 1:04 left.
But that’s when Emmanuel Akot, who had been 0 for 6 from the field, drilled a 3-pointer of his own with 35.5 seconds left to put the Broncos back in front 56-55.
“When it got kicked to him, we all kind of knew he was making it,” Rice said. “That’s the belief we have him him.”
But San Diego State responded out of a timeout and a dunk from Mensah on an alley-oop put the Aztecs back in front 57-56 with 24 seconds left.
Shaver tried to be the hero like he has so many times this season, but his shot was well off and Bradley grabbed the board and was fouled with 7.7 seconds left.
He missed both. Kigab made his. The result was a big win for the Broncos that inched them closer to both a Mountain West regular season title and a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
“With the respect we have for San Diego State and what they are doing, it’s a huge win,” Rice said. “It’s a huge win for us. And it’s a tough one to get. … It means a lot to get the sweep (of San Diego State) and we were fortunate. Both games were down to the final possession. Isn’t that crazy? But I guess it’s not crazy because like half our games have been that way.”
Boise State heads to UNLV for a tough road game Saturday night at 8 p.m. before returning home for Senior Night against Nevada next Tuesday. The Broncos close the regular season at Colorado State on March 5.
It was one win. But it was a big one. And more big ones could be coming soon.
“This is a historic team,” Rice said. “This will be a team we’ll all remember for a long time.”
Tuesday’s thriller won’t soon be forgotten either.