Boise State men's basketball has been so close, yet oh so far

The Broncos have lost their past five games that were decided by five or fewer points.

dsouthorn@idahostatesman.comFebruary 8, 2014 

NOT IN THEIR HOUSE Boise State has played at Utah State 17 times since the teams’ first meeting March 2, 1974. The Aggies won 83-67, and they’ve yet to lose to the Broncos at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum. Boise State occasionally has been close, losing by one point in 1999 and 2007, but 10 of the Logan games have been decided by double digits, with a high margin of 29 on Jan. 22, 1998. The Aggies lead the all-time series 28-9, but Boise State snapped a six-game skid with a 78-74 win Jan. 18 at Taco Bell Arena in Boise. Utah State is 11-3 at home this season — losing to Pacific, San Diego State in overtime and New Mexico — and the Aggies are 76-10 at home since the start of the 2009-10 season. Above: Big Blue, the Aggies’ mascot, does some crowd surfing during a 77-49 victory over Boise State on Feb. 5, 2011, the Broncos’ last trip to Logan.

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— Disappointed and frustrated after back-to-back collapses in key games, the Boise State men’s basketball team is out to purge any creeping doubt.

The Broncos held double-digit leads in the last 10 minutes their last two games, only to lose both on 3-pointers in the final seconds.

After Wednesday’s 67-65 loss to No. 5 San Diego State, Boise State coach Leon Rice called the late failures a “a disease that we have to cure.” Prior to a lively practice Friday, he feels the Broncos are equipped to rid themselves of it soon.

“It takes a lot of toughness and character to lift yourself off the mat,” Rice said. “We did it from UNLV to San Diego State. … Now we’ve got that challenge again.”

The Broncos (15-8, 5-5) will have a chance to put that resiliency to the test at Utah State (13-9, 3-7) on Saturday (4:05 p.m., CBS Sports Network), where Boise State has never won.

Rice and his team take some solace in that there are still a month’s worth of games left, and surely, some will be close.

“One of my coaching buddies said these things even out over the course of a season, a career. Well, I’ve got some evening out coming toward me,” said Rice, who noted he has never been involved in so many close games in one season in his career.

Six of the Broncos’ eight losses have come while they led or were within three points in the final 30 seconds.

Trying to figure out why has no clear solution — if Rice knew, he would have used it by now — but after reviewing Wednesday’s loss, he has some ideas.

“One of the things I’m taking upon myself is I’ve got to trust our bench a little more,” Rice said. “You get your horses out there, they got the lead out there and you want to let them try to finish, but I probably overextended them. The lull in our scoring was probably due to straight exhaustion.”

Boise State, minus senior Jeff Elorriaga and his bad back, used senior Thomas Bropleh for 31 minutes (15 points on 6-of-7 shooting), junior Igor Hadziomerovic for 12 minutes and freshman Dezmyn Trent for two.

The Aztecs used five bench players for a combined 71 minutes to the Broncos’ 45.

Four Bronco starters played 33 minutes or more, including guard Derrick Marks (33). Marks took seven of the Broncos’ final eight shots, making one. Just as Rice wants to do, he’s looking for Marks to spread the wealth, too.

“Having a good team finish a game is having the right guy shoot at the end of the game, but that doesn’t mean at all costs,” Rice said. “You’ve got to have a feel for setting your teammates up, and that’s when we’re at our best.”

Boise State led San Diego State 59-46 with 11:53 to play, but afterward went 2-of-12 from the field with no assists, five turnovers and four shots blocked. They were 24-of-39 from the field with 10 assists to four turnovers prior. Marks has a history of excellent second-half play, but teams are getting wise to it and committing multiple defenders to him late in those close games.

“Part of his evolution as a complete guard is … if you can read it and set some guys up, we’re going to be a better team,” Rice said.

The Broncos also saw the Aztecs make eight of their last 12, something Thompson said was “not acceptable.”

Offense, defense, you name it, and Boise State needs to improve it late in games. But for them, doing that starts with something far less tangible, but hope adversity develops — a trust they can be on the other side of tight games.

“I could tell that it hurts everyone, and games like this, it’s supposed to hurt. All we can do is come back more confident,” Marks said.

Dave Southorn: 377-6420, Twitter: @IDS_Southorn

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