BOISE, Idaho (AP)—Greg Graham almost chewed out fiery Matt Nelson and quiet Paul Noonan after seeing the pair barking at each other following a turnover.
He held off, knowing it was just the type of fire his Boise State squad needed to upset a ranked team for the first time in nearly three years.
Playing with emotion and energy, Nelson made all seven of his shots and scored 18 points, Reggie Larry led Boise State with 19 and the Broncos rallied from 11 down at halftime to stun No. 20 BYU 73-70 on Saturday night.
More wins like this, and they might be talking about more than football at Boise State.
It was Boise State’s (9-3) eighth win in its last nine, and second straight rallying from a big deficit. The Broncos were down 12 in the second half before winning at Albany last weekend.
“I didn’t know what to do after that game was over,” said Larry, who was part of a wild celebration afterward at midcourt. “We bounced back in the second half, got things flowing … and said we can’t let this one slip.”
Nelson was the leader, thanks to his gritty play on the inside, outplaying BYU center Trent Plaisted and bouncing back from scoring just two points against Albany. Nelson also grabbed 11 rebounds and had five assists.
“I’d like to take credit for it, but it was definitely a team effort,” Nelson said of slowing Plaisted. “I was pretty excited to go against him. I don’t know if the NBA is in my future, but it’s always cool to go against guys who will probably end up there and see where you stand.”
Nelson stood quite tall on this night, scoring on short jumpers, and fighting through traffic to get key rebounds and score on putbacks. Nelson has posted a double-double in three of his last four games.
“Nellie is a competitor,” Graham said. “I’m sure he thought about this for a while and I thought he did a great job on him.”
Lee Cummard led the Cougars with 26 points, but stumbled in traffic and saw his desperation 3-pointer fall well short as time expired. BYU (10-3) lost on the road for the first time this season and likely will fall out of the Top 25. Its previous two losses were on a neutral court—to No. 1 North Carolina and to No. 7 Michigan State—and its previous road games were easy routs at Portland and Long Beach State.
Plaisted was held five points under his season average, finishing with 12 points and nine rebounds. Sam Burgess and Jimmer Fredette added 11 each, but BYU was just 8-of-27 from 3-point range.
“Trent got the ball in a lot of good positions to score,” BYU coach Dave Rose said. “I think they did a pretty good job of being physical with him and that caused him some problems.”
Boise State trailed 38-27 at halftime, thanks to a 15-1 BYU run late in the first half, but the Broncos took control midway through the second half, and held on at the end.
Nelson slid through two Cougars’ to tip in Tyler Tiedeman’s miss with 4 minutes left to give Boise State a 66-62 lead and Larry’s 15-footer moments later pushed the advantage to six, even inspiring Graham to flail his arms, imploring the crowd to recognize the effort of his team.
BYU didn’t go down without a final charge. Burgess’ 3-pointer and Cummard’s layup off a turnover cut the deficit to 70-67 with 1:57 left.
After a Boise State miss, Fredette rimmed out a 3, but Cummard was fouled on the rebound and made both free throws. Larry then swooped through the lane to tip-in a miss and give the Broncos a 72-69 lead with 34 seconds left.
Plaisted was fouled with 19 seconds left, but made only one of two. Tiedeman missed the front-end of a 1-and-1 with 16 seconds left, giving BYU a chance to tie or win, but Plaisted’s 8-footer was short and Larry grabbed the rebound. He was fouled and split his free throws, giving BYU a final opportunity, but Cummard couldn’t get a clean shot away, slipping to the court and setting off a wild celebration.
“We haven’t faced too much adversity on the road this year,” Cummard said. “We’ve got to play a lot better, a lot harder and we’ve still got some kinks we’re trying to get worked out.
Boise State’s last victory over a ranked team was over Nevada in the 2005 WAC tournament.