The pitbull, the shooter and the slasher have become difference-makers for the Boise State men’s basketball team — and provided a glimpse of a future that should be bright even after this year’s star-studded senior class departs.
Sophomore guards Marcus Dickinson, Justinian Jessup and Alex Hobbs are players 5 through 7 in the Broncos’ rotation. Their play goes a long way in determining whether this is a good team with a great player in Chandler Hutchison or a great, deep team that is extraordinarily difficult to beat.
On Saturday night against UNLV, the trio combined for 37 points, eight 3-pointers and nine critical free throws in an overtime win.
“They’re wired to that depth,” UNLV coach Marvin Menzies said. “They’re a tough team to beat when they’re clicking on all cylinders, and that’s kind of what they had going (Saturday).”
The three sophomores have combined for 30.9 points per game, 47.7 percent shooting on 3-pointers and 5.4 treys per game in the Broncos’ 19 wins this season.
Those numbers plunge to 17.3 points per game, 18.6 percent shooting from behind the arc and two treys per game in the team’s four losses.
“Each of us can impact a game a different way,” Jessup said.
Dickinson, the self-described “pitbull,” is the Broncos’ backup point guard and likely will step into the starting role next season. His growth has led coach Leon Rice to use him alongside starting point guard Lexus Williams more often and allowed Rice to protect Williams, who had four fouls, for most of Saturday’s overtime session.
“That meant a lot,” said Dickinson, who leads the team in assist-to-turnover ratio. “I had to earn that trust. It wasn’t just given to me. I had to bust my butt. I would run through a wall for my team and my coaching staff.”
Williams is a one-and-done graduate transfer whose presence has been instrumental in the Broncos’ Mountain West title chase. His arrival likely delayed Dickinson’s opportunity to start by a year — but the sophomore has used the opportunity to learn from the senior, particularly from a leadership standpoint.
“That’s the beauty of Marcus — he’s the most unselfish winner I’ve ever been around,” Rice said. “Those two have been really good together.”
Jessup is the Broncos’ dynamic 3-point shooter, leading the team with 67 3-pointers and 45.9 percent shooting from behind the arc. Those numbers are even more impressive when you consider the funk he just exited. During a six-game stretch that included both of the Broncos’ conference losses, Jessup was 7-for-30 (23.3 percent) from long range.
“I didn’t handle it very well, obviously,” he said of the slump. “I can’t worry about shooting. I’ve got to focus on defense, rebounding, talking to other people, trying to do other things. Because if you just pour all your focus into shooting and worry about it constantly, it probably won’t go in.”
Jessup has recovered with 9-for-14 shooting over the past two games, including five 3-pointers against UNLV. His value to the team goes well beyond shooting, too — he’s first in steals and blocked shots and fourth in rebounding.
“It just felt good to see some go down against a good team,” he said.
Jessup and Hobbs have split the fifth spot in the starting lineup this season. Jessup is the preferred option, with Hobbs providing a scoring spark off the bench.
Hobbs scored seven points in the first half against UNLV but barely played in the second half because Rice didn’t want to mess with a lineup that caught fire for an extended period.
Hobbs is known for his creative shotmaking — slashing through traffic and showing deft touch. Using him off the bench helps replace Hutchison’s attacking approach when the star needs a break.
“(Hobbs) looks at it, gets a feel for the game and now he knows how he can attack,” Rice said.
The Broncos are in the hunt for an NCAA Tournament berth in large part because of the growth of those three sophomores, who have nearly doubled their combined scoring average since last season.
Next season, they likely will be the team’s three leading returning scorers with Hutchison, Williams and senior forward Chris Sengfelder on their way out.
“We’ve just got to continue to develop as people and players and continue to try to take this program to the next level,” Jessup said. “With Alex and Marcus, I definitely believe we can do that.”
Chadd Cripe is the Idaho Statesman sports editor. Contact him at ccripe@ idahostatesman.com, 208-377-6398 or @chaddcripe on Twitter.
Broncos on the road for two
The Boise State men’s basketball team plays two road games this week as it tries to set up a first-place showdown with Nevada next week.
The Broncos play Tuesday night at New Mexico, which has won seven straight home games and four of its past five overall to climb back into the conference race. The Lobos are 12-12 overall and 7-4 in the Mountain West. Boise State (19-4, 9-2) won the first meeting 90-62 in Boise.
Tuesday’s game begins at 8 p.m. and airs on ESPNU.
The Broncos finish the week Saturday at Utah State (7 p.m., AT&T/ROOT).