The Spectrum used to be a house of horrors for the Boise State basketball team. At one point, the Broncos lost 18 straight games on Utah State’s home court.
Now they’ve won three in a row.
Freshman Justinian Jessup hit five 3-pointers and scored 16 points, and junior Chandler Hutchison added a team-high 21 points to lead the Broncos past the Aggies 83-80 in the Mountain West opener for both teams Wednesday night.
A young Boise State team with just one senior in the starting lineup came into Logan looking for a battle. The Broncos could have been cocky when they led. They could have been rattled when they trailed. They could have been shaken when the crowd got too loud. They could have quit when all hope looked lost.
They were having none of that.
“They have great fans, they have a great basketball team. They are hard to guard,” Boise State coach Leon Rice said. “I was so proud of everybody in our program.”
The Broncos (8-4, 1-0) absorbed every jab the Aggies threw. They endured a raucous crowd filled with rowdy fans who heckled senior Nick Duncan every time he touched the ball. They saw a nine-point, second-half lead dwindle and turn into a four-point deficit.
Boise State, trailing 61-58 with 4:40 remaining, went on a 13-2 run that included five points from redshirt senior James Reid. Six late points by Utah State (6-6, 0-1) freshman Koby McEwen cut the Broncos’ lead to 82-80 with 3.4 seconds remaining. A late missed free throw from Jessup was rebounded by Duncan, who threw the ball in the air as the final buzzer rang.
“(We took) so many punches. We just had to keep battling through,” Hutchison said. “That’s something that coach Rice always emphasizes, is keep weathering storms. It’s never going to turn out how you want it to or how you expect it to.”
Hutchison scored 14 points in the final 10 minutes of the first half and helped Boise State to a 39-33 halftime lead.
Utah State kept coming, however, tying the game at 46-46 early in the second and seizing momentum at various moments throughout the half. Reid and Duncan, the two senior leaders, led Boise State’s late charge and scored a combined 18 points in the second half.
Boise State shot 39.3 percent from the field in the second and 41 percent for the game.
Duncan was openly emotional after grabbing the game’s final rebound off the missed Jessup free throw. He ended up with 18 points.
“(Duncan) was fired up. He was ready to play, maybe the most engaged I’ve seen him,” Rice said. “He gets a pretty good ribbing from fans when we play on the road.”
McEwen and senior Jalen Moore scored 17 and 24, respectively, for Utah State.
Boise State hosts Colorado State at 4 p.m. Saturday before heading on the road to face UNLV on Jan. 4. The Rams (9-5, 1-0) beat UNLV 91-77 at home Wednesday night.
Boise State women host Utah State on Thursday
The Broncos (10-1) open Mountain West play against Utah State (7-4) at 7 p.m. at Taco Bell Arena. Boise State has won two straight since losing at Washington on Dec. 11.
Senior guard Brooke Pahukoa leads the Broncos in scoring with 14.7 points per game but has missed the past two games with a foot injury. Her status for Thursday’s game is unknown.
Boise State has won its past six games against Utah State and leads the series 22-8.
Utah State is led by Rachel Brewster (13.5 points per game) and Shannon Dufficy (9.4 rebounds per game). The Aggies average 61.8 points per game, which ranks ninth in the Mountain West.
Tickets for Thursday’s game are available at BroncoSports.com/tickets and at the Taco Bell Arena box office. Tickets start at $6 for adults and $4 for children and seniors.