Boise State one basket short at San Diego State

The Broncos struggle early, but battle back against the Mountain West's top team.

dsouthorn@idahostatesman.comJanuary 9, 2014 

SAN DIEGO - Once again, it came down to a final shot in the waning seconds.

Once again, Boise State was on the wrong side of the final score.

The Broncos' Derrick Marks missed a jumper down one point with less than a second left with a chance to knock off No. 13 San Diego State. But like it has in their prior two meetings at Viejas Arena, the Aztecs came away with the close win, 69-66 late Wednesday.

All three games the past three seasons between the two teams in San Diego have been decided by a total of six points, with the Aztecs 3-0 in those games.

"I guess this place is haunted or something," Marks said.

After a brutal start that saw the Broncos score only eight points in the first 13 minutes, Boise State (11-4, 1-1 Mountain West) clawed back against one of the nation's top defenses, getting within 67-66 as the final seconds ticked away. With 30 seconds to go after the Aztecs' Aqeel Quinn missed a 3-pointer, Marks milked the clock, dribbled inside the 3-point line and missed the long jumper. The Aztecs (13-1, 2-0) tacked on two free throws with 0.2 seconds to play.

"I think Derrick's kicking himself for not driving," Boise State coach Leon Rice said of Marks, who had a game-high 21 points. "We had the pieces where we needed to have them and the ball where we needed to have it, in the right guy's hands."

Boise State came as close as anyone to ending the Aztecs' streak of winning games when leading with 5 minutes left, which is now at 105.

The Aztecs, who came into the game in the top four nationally in scoring defense, field goal percentage defense and 3-point percentage defense, led for the final 38:22 and put the Broncos in a huge hole with a stifling 8-minute stretch early in the game.

After Boise State got within 9-8 with 14:47 to go in the first half, the Broncos did not score again for nearly 8 minutes, during which the Aztecs went on a 17-0 run.

As San Diego's beloved fictitious anchorman Ron Burgundy said, "Boy, that escalated quickly."

"I was hoping we'd get off eight before halftime, I really was," Rice said.

In the first 20 minutes, the Broncos shot 37.5 percent from the field (9-of-24), making just 2-of-11 free throws. They turned it over 10 times, leading to 16 Aztecs points.

"They kept on pressuring us, it took a while for us to get into a rhythm," Boise State forward Ryan Watkins said.

No Boise State guard scored until Marks' free throws with 6:20 until halftime made it 26-12. His shot just before the buzzer to end the game was his second final-second attempt — he hit a 3-pointer at the end of the first half that made it 34-26, a sign the Broncos wouldn't go away.

In fact, after falling behind 26-8, the Broncos turned it over just three times the rest of the game and finished with a 37-32 rebounding edge after starting in an 11-4 hole. It was only the third time this season San Diego State was outrebounded — the Aztecs had a 51-39 rebounding edge over then-No. 16 Kansas in a win Sunday.

Anthony Drmic finished with his third career double-double for the Broncos with 17 points and 10 rebounds, and Watkins had nine points and 10 rebounds.

"They throttled us that first half, but I've got guys that have heart, that have character, and they care about each other — they keep battling, good or bad," Rice said.

In 2012, the Broncos lost at Viejas Arena as Thomas Bropleh's 3-pointer rattled in and out at the end of a 58-56 loss.

In 2013, it was the Aztecs' Chase Tapley who provided the dagger with a 3-pointer with 2.8 seconds left to win 63-62.

Now, off another heartbreaker, the Broncos will need to recover as the Mountain West grind continues Saturday with a home game against Wyoming.

"It's tough, but we've just got to let it go, bounce back from it, like last year - and the year before," Watkins said.

BRONCOS HAVE NEW SHOOTING SLOGAN

It makes so much sense, it is hard to imagine it took this long to give Boise State a poster-worthy nickname: The City of Threes.

A simple turn of Boise's "City of Trees" nickname, the Broncos have embraced the fitting name for the team's array of long-distance shooters.

Boise State has posted a YouTube video with a montage of the many 3-pointers the Broncos have made this season, accompanied by sound effects from the classic video game, NBA Jam.

Boise State came into the San Diego State game ranked 27th in the country, making 40.1 percent of its 3-pointers, and 44th with 8.0 made 3-pointers per game.

That prowess from long range makes senior Jeff Elorriaga the mayor of the City of Threes, as he entered the game No. 1 in the nation, making 55.1 percent of his 3s.

"They spread the floor, make you guard them in all sorts of ways, shoot the 3 as often and as quickly that they can - and not just one guy, they are a team that scores in bunches from the perimeter," San Diego State coach Steve Fisher said Tuesday.

COACH RICE ADMIRES AZTECS' REBIRTH

When Boise State's Leon Rice took the helm before the 2010-11 season, he had a first-hand look at how to build a strong mid-major as an assistant at Gonzaga for more than a decade.

To see how to build in the Mountain West, he said he looked at San Diego State.

In Fisher's first season, 1999-2000, the Aztecs went 0-14 in conference play. Since, they've gone to six NCAA Tournaments, including the last four. Rice recalled the Broncos' 3-11 record in Mountain West play in 2011-12 as something even now-elite programs went through.

"The patience … it was a tough grind, and I look back and think 'coach Fisher had to go through this,'" Rice said.

NOTES FROM SAN DIEGO

Marks' 10 points in the first half gave him 1,012 for his career, putting him into 22nd in school history, passing Jason Ellis (1,004) and Anthony Thomas (1,005). … Boise State has won twice against top-15 teams in school history - 69-61 over No. 15 Washington on Dec. 4, 1998, and 83-70 at No. 11 Creighton on Nov. 28, 2012. … Five of the Broncos' six meetings with the Aztecs in Mountain West play have been decided by six points or less. … San Diego State is 81-8 at home since the 2009-10 season.

Dave Southorn: 377-6420

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