Courtesy of Braidon Nourse

LAS VEGAS – A tight race most of the way. A tide turned with three minutes to go. And in many ways, a game stolen in favor of the No. 9 Fresno State Bulldogs over No. 8 Wyoming.

The Cowboys led for more than 32 minutes, including holding a nine-point lead with just 5:50 to go thanks to a 10-0 run.

Down for the count, hope dwindling, Fresno State found the light at the end of the tunnel. With nine seconds on the knockdown count, the Bulldogs popped right back up.

A 12-1 run in the final 2:54 was just enough to snatch away a 77-73 victory and set up a Mountain West Men’s Basketball Championship quarterfinal against Utah State on Thursday at noon.

During the run, it was crucial for the Bulldogs to get to the line and convert, which they did at a record pace the whole game. Hitting 22 of 23 free throws on the night, the Bulldogs tied the Mountain West tournament record.

Another part of it was actually finding a way to capitalize on the chance they’d given themselves and take the lead. The Bulldogs finished with six offensive rebounds and nine second-chance points, but none were bigger than Leo Colimerio’s putback layup to take a 75-73 lead, which would up being enough for the win.

“It says a lot because we’re not a big offensive rebounding team,” Fresno State coach Justin Hutson said. “So it says ‘I’m going to do what it takes at the end of this game to make a play,’ because that’s not one of our strengths.”

Isaiah Pope led the way for the Bulldogs with 22 points, recognizing the senior’s game could have been his last on a college court. His team still down with just less than four minutes to go, he fouled out.

Which made it even more special for him and for his teammates to extend his season.

“Our guys stepped up without Pope in the game at the end,” Bulldogs guard Donavan Yap Jr. said. “A lot of guys had to step up to the challenge and get the job done. Thankfully we were able to do that, it’s a good feeling for sure.”

In total, Fresno State had five players in double figures, including Yap and Jalen Weaver off the bench, scoring 16 and 10, respectively.

A testament to the Bulldogs’ strength all year. They don’t necessarily have five players who average double figures, but to get it done in a game of this magnitude was special.

“That is one of our strengths when we play. We don’t have any selfish guys on the team,” Hutson said. “They all are playing to win, but sometimes we get passive, sometimes we get a little over-aggressive. I just thought we continued to move the ball, we played right, and we had some guys step up and make some big shots and continued to play.”

Wyoming, on the other hand, is home to four players with 10 or more points per game on the season. One of them is Akuel Kot, who jumped out to score 14 points in the first half, all without missing a shot. He finished with 23 points to go with four rebounds.

Having a massive run on offense is just one piece of the puzzle. Limiting what a player like Kot can do late is the other.

“He’s really good at coming off the ball screens, making plays by himself,” Pope said. “He likes to pull up jumpers a lot, so (Hutson) told us to come off the ball screens and hide him, get the ball out of his hands and try to run him off the line because he had made a couple of 3s. We listened to the game plan and executed it and got the stops that we needed.”