LAS VEGAS -- Everybody in the arena knew the ball was going to San Diego State star sophomore guard Jamaal Franklin in the closing seconds of a tie game against scrappy Boise State.
The Broncos got two players in his face. Franklin, doing what conference players of the year are supposed to, didn't flinch. He lofted an off-balance 3-pointer over the double-team and then landed on his backside as it went through at the buzzer to give top-seeded and San Diego State (No. 21 ESPN/USA Today, No. 18 AP) a 65-62 victory over No. 8 seed Boise State in the Mountain West Conference tournament opener Thursday.
"I believed in myself," Franklin said. "I always practice the last shot. When it left my hand, I felt it was going to go in."
Said teammate Chase Tapley: "He does that in practice. He goes, 5-4-3-2-1 and it goes in."
BSU coach Leon Rice said the Broncos "couldn't have guarded it better. Derrick (Marks) almost poked it away to start out with, then Thomas (Bropleh) did a great job of guarding him without fouling him, too. He threw up a tough, tough shot. But, you know, a great player like that is a shot-maker, especially at the end of the game. That's why we were committed to take two guys to guard him. You got to give him credit. He made a heck of a shot."
Franklin said it was a "very tough look" after he got the pass from Xavier Thames. "X did a great job giving me the ball because they denied me all the way out to basically halfcourt. X did a great job giving me the ball. My first object was to get to the rim. They kind of double-teamed me. I just shot the 3."
While the Aztecs celebrated, Bropleh collapsed in disbelief and had to be consoled by teammates.
The Aztecs (25-6) were up by 11 with 6:43 to play and then squandered an eight-point lead in the final three minutes. Xavier Thames' turnover against a full-court press set up Bropleh for an inside shot to tie at 62 with 26 seconds left. The Aztecs called timeout to set up the final shot by Franklin.
Franklin did what he usually does in practice.
"In the last eight minutes of practice, they do what they want," said Steve Fisher, the MWC coach of the year. "Last one, he waits and he waits and he shoots at zero. If he makes it, he falls to the ground. He's unafraid of the moment. Jamal is turning into an extremely talented, confident basketball player. Chase and Xavier were terrific in the second half. We're proud of the fact we're still here."
Tapley scored 20 for the Aztecs, Franklin had 19 and Thames 14. Anthony Drmic finished with 19 points for the Broncos while Bropleh added 11 and Derrick Marks and Kenny Buckner 10 apiece. Boise State dominated the Aztecs on the boards, 31-22.
Tapley scored 10 points during what seemed to be the decisive stretch for the Aztecs, who are trying to win their third straight MWC tournament title. The Aztecs were supposed to be rebuilding after losing four starters off last year's NCAA tournament round-of-16 team, including Kawhi Leonard to the NBA. They shared the regular-season title with New Mexico and got the top seed for the tournament on a tiebreaker.
"Our game today is indicative of how close the level is in our league," Fisher said. "People would have talked if they won, 'Oh, what a big upset it was.' This is an outstanding basketball league. There are no big upsets. I told Leon, 'I'm sorry the game ended the way it did.' But obviously I'm excited we're moving on. We feel fortunate we're moving on. He and they have done a wonderful job. That's a good team."
Boise State played the Aztecs tough until midway through the second half, when the Broncos' shots stopped falling and Tapley got hot.
With the Aztecs leading 45-42, Tapley made a layup, two 3-pointers and a baseline jumper in the next four minutes to help give SDSU a 57-46 lead. Boise State countered only with a baseline shot by Drmic and two free throws by Ryan Watkins.
Tapley hit another 3 with 3:01 left for a 60-52 lead. Drmic answered with a 3-pointer and Marks made a layup and converted a three-point play with 1:12 left to pull the Broncos to 60-58.
Franklin made a layup before Drmic was fouled taking a 3-pointer. He made two of the three free throws to again make it a two-point game with 37.8 seconds to play.
Tapley had the ball for the Aztecs but was closely guarded by two Broncos. He threw wildly to Thames, who in a desperate attempt to keep it inbounds threw it toward the key. The Broncos got it and Bropleh put up the tying shot.
The Aztecs swept the regular-season series, winning in San Diego only after Bropleh missed an open 3-point shot from the corner as the final seconds ticked off in a two-point game. SDSU won at BSU 66-53 on Feb. 29.