LAS VEGAS (AP) Boise State showed how little difference there really is between the eighth seed and the top seed in the competitive Mountain West Conference.
It took Jamaal Franklin's off-balance 3-pointer at the buzzer to give top-seeded and No. 18 San Diego State a 65-62 victory over No. 8 seed Boise State in the MWC tournament opener Thursday.
Franklin, the MWC Player of the Year, lifted the Aztecs (25-6) after they got sloppy against the scrappy Broncos (13-17).
It was the second time in three games that the Broncos played close against the Aztecs.
On Feb. 1 in San Diego, the Aztecs won only after Thomas 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.
"This league is raising our level of play," Boise State coach Leon Rice said. "This league raises the bar. Four of our last five games have been against Top 25 teams. We made mistakes freshmen are going to make. The competition in this league is awesome."
The Aztecs squandered an eight-point lead in the final three minutes. Xavier Thames' turnover against a full-court press set up BSU's Thomas Bropleh for an inside shot to tie at 62 with 26 seconds left. The Aztecs called timeout to set up the final shot. Franklin put it up over Bropleh and then fell on his backside as the ball went through.
"I mean, we're an extremely young team," Anthony Drmic said. "We've got a lot of experience throughout the year, a lot of freshmen playing. We're going to be back next year. Just play harder, play more together and hopefully get more wins next year."
Chase Tapley scored 20 for the Aztecs, Franklin had 19 and Thames 14. 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 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.
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 Dmric 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 Broncos led 26-17 on Buckner's shot off a rebound with 6:53 to go before halftime.
SDSU came back on 3-pointers by Thames and James Rahon and a slam dunk by Franklin. Tapley's 3-pointer with 1:25 to go gave the Aztecs a 30-28 lead, their first since early on. Marks and Buckner made bank shots in the final minute for a 32-30 BSU lead that stood at halftime after Tapley missed a 3 at the buzzer.