Marcus Dickinson wasn’t sure when the moment would happen. But he was confident that, if he kept his mind right, his moment to step up in a game would come.
The freshman guard from Norman, Okla., has had trouble breaking into the Boise State lineup early this season. In the first seven games, Dickinson played 59 minutes and scored 19 points. In two games at Oregon and Evansville, he saw a single minute of playing time.
But then a trip to Los Angeles happened.
The Broncos (5-4) traveled to Loyola Marymount last Monday for the final game of an epic 10 days that saw the team play five games in three time zones. Junior swingman Chander Hutchison, the team’s leading scorer, got into early foul trouble and was forced to sit the final eight minutes of the first half. Hutchison was limited to 24 minutes in the game, which tied a season-low.
Enter Dickinson, who hadn’t scored a point in 10 days.
The guard scored eight points in eight first-half minutes. Dickinson hit a pair of 3-pointers that kept the Broncos afloat with Hutchison on the bench. Boise State defeated Loyola Marymount 80-79, due in large part to Dickinson and his benchmates.
With a 9,000-mile travel schedule and a condensed slate of games in the first month, the Broncos had tired legs. That has made the team’s role players of the utmost importance.
“I was ready, no matter what. No matter if I got zero minutes, 10 minutes or 20 minutes. I just had to stay ready to help my team out,” Dickinson said. “If you think in basketball, that’s when you start making mistakes. So I just told myself just to play.”
As the Broncos head into the meat of their schedule, including Sunday’s game against Idaho State (4:30 p.m., Taco Bell Arena), head coach Leon Rice will count on the contributions of his role players. Hutchison won’t lead Boise State to the top of the Mountain West by himself.
“We had some guys that stepped up for us when we needed it most. Otherwise, you don’t win that road game. And road games are hard to come by,” Rice said. “They kind of saved our bacon. And we need them to be players. And you can’t win this league with three or four players. You have to have a team to do it. And we’re getting closer to having that.”
Hutchison has received most of the headlines this season, averaging a team-best 17.4 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. Also helping to lead the charge have been senior Nick Duncan (10.3 ppg), sophomore Paris Austin (9.9 ppg) and freshman Justinian Jessup (9.4 ppg).
Dickinson, along with sophomore bigs Robin Jorch and Zach Haney, and senior guard James Reid, have proven to be some of Boise State’s most valuable assets.
Boise State’s bench scored 33 of the team’s 80 points against Loyola Marymount. After a loss at Oregon on Nov. 28, the Broncos had a quick turnaround date with SMU two days later. While it was Hutchison who led the team with 21 points in a 71-62 win, it was Reid, who started the first three games before being supplanted by Austin, scoring 18 points off the bench that made the difference. In a 72-67 loss at Evansville, Jorch came off the bench to score 12 points and grab a team-high eight rebounds.
Even Cameron Oluyitan, who played 37 minutes and scored six points prior to the LMU game, hit two 3-point baskets with Hutchison in foul trouble against the Lions. Oluyitan, Dickinson, Haney and Reid went 13-for-19 from the field.
“It really hurt when (Hutchison) was in foul trouble, but for me and Cam to step up, that was a big deal. And that’s what me and Cam are here for. We just do the little things, no matter what it is,” Dickinson said. “It gives me a lot of confidence, just knowing that I can play.”
Oluyitan said he had a hunch he was going to get an opportunity to play against Loyola Marymount, especially given the two-day turnaround from Evansville. When his moment came, his only option was to seize it.
“(Coaches) were telling us to stay ready throughout the whole season. I knew my time would come,” Oluyitan said. “You feel really good. I knew my teammates were going to find me.”
Boise State returns to a somewhat “relaxing” schedule for the next two weeks, with home games against Idaho State and Cal State Northridge (Dec. 21) before Mountain West play starts at Utah State on Dec. 28.
Keeping Hutchison out of foul trouble is going to be important as the Broncos march into the new year. Keeping Duncan, Jessup and Austin hot is a necessity, too.
But making sure that the team’s unsung heroes remain involved is going to be just as crucial, especially since Rice expects most of his team’s upcoming games to come down to the wire.
“We have 21 more games left on the schedule,” Rice said. “(And) I bet 21 of them are going to be close.”