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Late drama lifts Boise State to 1st Mountain West tourney title

Fittingly for Boise State and San Diego State, the tournament championship came down to the final shot.

The two previous matchups this season between the Broncos and Aztecs came down to the wire. Boise State won both games by a combined six points.

So as San Diego State senior Trey Pulliam scrambled to get off his floater as time expired, Boise State coach Leon Rice couldn’t help but think back to the team’s most recent games.

“I was thinking to myself, ‘Well, this is ironic,’” he said. “This is the way it’s going to end. I just felt because I’ve been in this position with these guys so many times, I felt like, ‘Well, they’ll get it done. They’ll find a way.’”

Pulliam’s floater missed. It was the second good look No. 3-seeded San Diego State had during its final possession after senior Matt Bradley left a layup short a few seconds earlier. The two late misses secured the 53-52 win and the Mountain West tournament championship for No. 1 Boise State Saturday at the Thomas & Mack Center.

It’s the first in program history for the Broncos (27-7). Aztec coach Brian Dutcher was happy with the shots his players took in the final seconds and praised Boise State for its final stand.

“I thought both teams played at a very high level,” he said. “Obviously, important plays were made on both sides, important stops were made on both sides. We had two shots to win the game and couldn’t make either one of them.”

The tournament win gives Boise State the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. It will be the Broncos’ first appearance since 2015 and gives them a clean sweep of the Mountain West this season after clinching the regular-season title outright.

“When you take over a program, there’s milestones you’ve got to cross,” Rice said. “To win the league outright and win the conference tournament … I mean what an amazing accomplishment.”

It was a gritty defensive showdown. Neither team started well on offense.

Bradley, the Aztecs’ No. 1 option, struggled to hit his shots. During the first half, he scored five points while shooting just 2 for 9 from the field. San Diego State made just 28.6 percent of its field goals in the first 10 minutes.

Boise State got early sparks from freshman forward Tyson Degenhart and fifth-year guard Emmanuel Akot. They both shot well from 3-point range and helped the Broncos take a 28-25 lead into the break, but Akot exited early after landing awkwardly while contesting a shot.

Bradley found his stroke for San Diego State in the second half, pouring in 12 of his 17 points after halftime. He got some help from sophomore guard Lamont Butler, who scored 16 points. Boise State turned to Tournament Most Outstanding Player Abu Kigab, who scored six of his 11 points after halftime.

Degenhart’s hook shot with 2:20 remaining put Boise State up by three, but Bradley responded with a short jumper to cut the lead to one.

Both teams also drew big charge calls to stay locked together, but Pulliam and Bradley both missed their looks for the Aztecs (23-8) as time expired to crown a new champion in the Mountain West.

“We’ve been in those situations before,” Kigab said. “All we had to do was execute and we did.”

Both teams will now wait to hear their names called during the NCAA Tournament selection show at 3 p.m. Sunday.

Contact reporter Andy Yamashita at ayamashita@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ANYamashita on Twitter.

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