(TOM SCOTT’S COLUMN WILL RETURN THURSDAY.)
There was a string of positives for Boise State all the way through Thursday’s Mountain West Tournament quarterfinal against Nevada. The Broncos ended up just a few positives short, falling to the 14th-ranked Wolf Pack 77-69 at Thomas & Mack Center to seal the first 20-loss record in program history. But truthfully, the season ends on an uptick. In the first half Boise State played extraordinarily hard, its shots were going down, and it built a lead that reached 15 points 7½ minutes before the break. Nevada didn’t go ahead until 18½ minutes remained in the game—and every time the Pack looked like it was going to run away and hide, the Broncos hung in. The final margin was Nevada’s largest of the game. This Boise State team was not the best, but it was a together group that will benefit by an infusion of talent next season.
Zach Haney came to play again in his final game for Boise State, dominating early against Nevada’s uber-confident Trey Porter. A sequence to start the second half looked like a bad omen: missed layup, foul called, and two missed free throws. The Wolf Pack launched an 8-0 run and took its first lead. But lo and behold, the game see-sawed, as Haney didn’t let it get him down. He fouled out with just under five minutes on the clock and Boise State up 60-59, and the Broncos missed him. Nevada’s Jazz Johnson canned a three-pointer on the next possession, and Boise State would not lead again.
Haney is done, but of the guys returning next season, Derrick Alston, Justinian Jessup and Marcus Dickinson were outstanding for Boise State, scoring 21, 18 and 12 points, respectively. Alston got his points despite being hounded by Nevada defenders, the expressionless Jessup had ice in his veins while putting up 12 in the first half, and Dickinson added five assists and did not turn the ball over. The Broncos’ defense on the Wolf Pack stars was good, too. Haney held Porter to four points, and Caleb and Cody Martin and Jordan Caroline combined to go 11-for-35 from the field. It’s Nevada advancing through, set to face San Diego State in the semifinals tonight. On the other side of the bracket, Utah State takes on Fresno State.
THE BIG SKY’S SEMIFINAL ACT IS SET
One former Bronco got the best of another in the only quarterfinal upset in the Big Sky Tournament at CenturyLink Arena Thursday night. Cameron Oluyitan, who transferred from Boise State to Southern Utah in 2017, led all scorers with 18 points as the seventh-seeded Thunderbirds toppled second-seeded Northern Colorado and coach Jeff Linder, the former Bronco assistant, 83-64. SUU advances to the semifinals tonight against the No. 3 seed, Eastern Washington. No. 1 seed Montana and Weber State meet in the other semi. The women’s title game will be played this afternoon between Eastern Washington and Portland State.
BRONCO FOOTBALL STAFF IS RESTOCKED
Boise State coach Bryan Harsin didn’t have to go far to find Andy Avalos’ replacement as defensive coordinator, but he still kind of went outside the program. Jeff Schmedding gets the job, just eight weeks after being hired as outside linebackers coach by the Broncos. Schmedding had spent the previous four seasons as D-coordinator at perennial FCS power Eastern Washington, which this past season forced 34 turnovers and logged 36 sacks, one of only four teams in the country to top 30 in both categories. The Eagles also led the Big Sky in scoring defense, pass defense efficiency, interceptions, turnover margin and fewest fourth down conversions allowed in 2018. Schmedding has credentials, and he’s on the way up in this profession. A good combination.
Talk about a guy on an upward trajectory, that’s Spencer Danielson. With Thursday’s announcement on Schmedding, Danielson was promoted to co-defensive coordinator. He’s entering only his second season as a full-time assistant at Boise State and his first as defensive line coach. Danielson coached the STUD position last year and helped produce two All-Mountain West first-teamers, Curtis Weaver and Jabril Frazier. Harsin has rounded out the Broncos staff by hiring inside linebackers coach Zac Alley, who had just become nickels coach at Charlotte. Alley had been a graduate assistant at Clemson the past four seasons and drew this praise from Tigers coach Dabo Swinney: “Zac’s one of the brightest young coaches we’ve had come through here. He literally could run our whole defense.”
MERRITT’S HIGHS AND LOWS, AND THE STEELIES PLAY FAR, FAR AWAY
On the pro front, Troy Merritt showed some rust in his first PGA Tour round in two months Thursday. But the former Boise State star worked around four bogeys to card a one-under 71 to open The Players Championship. The highlight of Merritt’s day was an eagle on the par-five 11th hole. He’s middle of the pack going into the second round. And the Idaho Steelheads go across the country to face Orlando for only the second time in their history, with games Saturday and Sunday. The Steelheads’ most effective line of late has been Mitch Moroz, Elgin Pearce, and Kyle Schempp, which posted 10 of the 16 points recorded by Idaho forwards last weekend versus Wichita.
THE BRONCO WOMEN COMFORTABLY WAIT
With the Boise State women’s hoops team safely in the NCAA Tournament, the Broncos await not only their first-round opponent, but their seeding. Boise State was saddled with a 16 seed last year and had to face No. 1 seed Louisville on the Cardinals’ home floor. This time the Broncos are projected as high as No. 12. They’ll find out on ESPN’s Selection Show Monday at 5 p.m. A couple followup notes on the title game Wednesday night: the 17-point margin of victory over Wyoming is the third largest in Mountain West championship round history. And a big key this week was taking care of the ball, as Boise State committed fewer than 10 turnovers in each of its three games in the tournament.
NCAA TOURNAMENT TIME FOR THE NNU WOMEN
The Northwest Nazarene women hit the NCAA Division II Tournament today, facing Humboldt State on the campus of UC San Diego. It’s been a dream season for the 28-2 Nighthawks, the No. 2 seed in the West Regional after winning the GNAC Tournament championship. NNU is 50-7 in two seasons under coach Steve Steele and is in the Big Dance for the second consecutive year. Meanwhile, College of Idaho point guard Talon Pinckney has been named a first-team NAIA Division II Men’s All-American. The former Centennial standout was the Cascade Conference Defensive Player of the year this season.
This Day In Sports…brought to you by ZAMZOWS…Nobody Knows Like Zamzows!
March 15, 2001: One of Boise’s finest sports day ever, as the Pavilion hosts the closest first round bracket in the history of the NCAA Tournament. First, Georgia State upsets Wisconsin by one…then Maryland holds off George Mason by three…then Georgetown beats Arkansas by two at the buzzer. But the last game was one for March Madness lore. Hampton became only the fourth No. 15 seed to ever upset a No. 2, bringing the house down by rallying for a 59-58 upset of Iowa State and former Idaho coach Larry Eustachy.
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 FM KTIK. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)