Boise State gets off on the right foot with win over Fresno State

Broncos roll past Bulldogs in Mountain West opener.

dsouthorn@idahostatesman.comJanuary 5, 2014 

In just about every aspect, it was the best possible way to start conference play.

The finish showed there is room for growth for Boise State’s men’s basketball team.

During Saturday’s Mountain West Conference opener, the Broncos led by as many as 24 in the first half before Fresno State cut it to single digits in the final minutes. The early dominance provided enough breathing room as Boise State won 86-79 before 7,527 fans at Taco Bell Arena.

“We definitely played well in the first half, but we’ve got to put the whole 40 minutes together,” senior Ryan Watkins said.

The Broncos (11-3, 1-0) went on a pair of early blitzes.

After falling behind 13-12 with 13:08 left in the first half, the Broncos embarked on a 20-0 run, then added an 11-0 run a few minutes later, during which they achieved their largest lead — 46-25 at halftime.

“It was as good a first half as you can play, really,” coach Leon Rice said.

Rice and his staff stressed controlling the rebounding battle leading up to Saturday’s game against the Bulldogs (7-8, 0-2). The Broncos held a commanding 27-11 edge at the half, and finished with a 42-26 advantage.

Watkins pulled down a game-high 17 rebounds, one shy of his career high, and added 15 points. It was his seventh game of the season with double-digit rebounds, but his first since Dec. 5.

“This week, the coaches challenged me, said I hadn’t been rebounding as well as I had been — and they were right,” Watkins said. “I wanted to come out and play hard … I just wanted to show I could step up to the challenge.”

For all the good the Broncos did Saturday, there also were plenty of lessons to be learned.

The Bulldogs hit 54.8 percent of their shots from the field in the second half and finished 13-of-31 on 3-pointers. They cut the lead to 12 at 66-54 with 5:14 to play and got to within 82-76 with 22 seconds remaining. Fresno State made 17 shots in the second half to Boise State’s six, though the Broncos made 27-of-34 free throws.

“You can’t put the brakes on for the entire second half. That’s not who we are,” Rice said. “We have to be aggressive. I think we lost just a little bit of that aggression there.”

Junior Anthony Drmic led Boise State with 19 points, giving him 1,166 in his career, 10th all-time at Boise State. Fellow junior Derrick Marks had only four points, but in the process crossed 1,000 career points. He has 1,002, which is 24th all-time.

Senior Jeff Elorriaga, on his 22nd birthday, had 12 points in the first half, but none in the second. As the Broncos march forward in conference play, he knows they can use Saturday’s game as a template of what to expect.

“I say we played good basketball for 32 minutes. That first half we played, that was probably the best basketball … if not the best, it was right there,” Elorriaga said. “Just the ending — you’ve got to put teams away. In the Mountain West, every team’s going to claw.”

For their next Mountain West matchup, the Broncos head onto to the road, at No. 21 San Diego State on Wednesday. In the two times Boise State has played conference games at Viejas Arena, the contests were been decided by a combined three points.

“We feel like we can get these wins,” Elorriaga said. “… you can’t just stroll into San Diego State and just win. You’ve got to beat them, and we have a lot to work on still.”

Dave Southorn: 377-6420, Twitter: @IDS_southorn

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