Just how fired up was Boise State basketball coach Leon Rice for Saturday’s game against Colorado State?
He literally ate fire.
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The Broncos and the Rams have had epic clashes in recent years, with the previous five games being decided by seven or fewer points. So Rice knew he had to do something to get his team motivated at practice Friday.
A pack of devoured lit matches later, Rice made his point.
“That’s what you have to play like when you play Colorado State. You have to play like your head’s on fire,” Rice said. “I told our guys I’ll do anything to help us win, and they’re going to have to do anything to help us win this game.”
Last season, James Webb III made a 3-pointer in Fort Collins that was deemed too late. This time, Chandler Hutchison’s was right on time.
The junior guard banked in a 3 at the buzzer for a 74-73 win Saturday night at Taco Bell Arena in front of a season-high crowd of 5,413. Braden Koelliker gave the Rams (9-6, 1-1 Mountain West) a two-point lead with 4.1 seconds left.
Boise State (9-4, 2-0), winner of five straight, led for 5 minutes, 56 seconds.
With the game tied 71-71, Koelliker hit an awkward off-balance jumper from the left elbow as the shot clock expired. Boise State remained composed, much like it did at the end of an 83-80 victory over Utah State on Wednesday.
“It’s never going to happen as you expect. You can plan and plan things,” said Hutchison, who scored a team-high 20 points. “We just stuck with it. (Koelliker) hit that shot, and I didn’t see a single head drop. We all fully believed that we were going to win the game no matter what, from tip.”
Hutchison grabbed the ensuing inbound pass from under the basket and dribbled the length of the floor. After bobbling the ball momentarily, the junior hoisted a prayer up from the top of the arc that kissed perfectly off the backboard and fell through the bottom of the net.
“I saw the clock was at 2 seconds left and just let it go,” Hutchison said. “To have that opportunity, to have the coaches trust me to have the ball, it speaks to the character of this team.”
Freshman Justinian Jessup, sophomore Paris Austin, and Hutchison combined to score 35 second-half points. After shooting just 26.9 percent in the first half, the Broncos shot 59.4 percent in the second.
“We knew how important this game was to us,” Austin said. “We usually don’t miss that many shots. All we just kept telling each other was, stay together.”
Boise State couldn’t have gotten off to a much worse start, going 1-for-13 from 3-point range and 10-of-21 from the free-throw line in the first half. The Broncos did not hit a field goal the final 8 minutes, 12 seconds before halftime.
Gian Clavell’s and Emmanuel Omogbo’s 23 combined points gave the Rams a 32-25 halftime lead despite shooting 33.3 percent from the floor.
Jessup hit two 3-pointers and made a free throw that gave Boise State a 42-41 lead with 14:35 left. The Rams kept charging behind Omogbo, who scored 12 of his 22 in the second half. Boise State trailed by seven halfway through the period, but huge baskets from Austin and sophomore Zach Haney helped Boise State keep pace with Omogbo, Koelliker and Prentiss Nixon, who scored a combined 12 points in the final 8 minutes for Colorado State.
Boise State’s first two Mountain West games have been thrilling nail-biters that have come down to the final possession. Rice’s young team’s ability to win both of those matchups speaks volumes: The kids are growing up in a hurry.
“That’s a huge stride. That’s what you pride yourself on. You don’t get bonus points for how many you win them by. You just have to find a way,” Rice said. “I’m really, really proud of our guys, and it’s a great sign when they can find ways to do that, because it creates belief.”
Boise State travels to Las Vegas to face UNLV on Jan. 4.