From November to now, Boise State basketball coach Leon Rice’s team is nearly unrecognizable.
The Broncos have a “get-better-every-day” mantra like the majority of teams do at any level. Unlike many of those teams, Boise State is living and breathing the slogan.
Against preseason Mountain West favorite San Diego State on a chilly Saturday night in Boise, the Broncos showed a national TV audience just how far they’ve come. The youthful team that lost at Oregon and Evansville is no more.
Boise State overcame an 11-point first-half deficit behind the sharp shooting of redshirt senior James Reid and a career-high 19 points from sophomore Zach Haney to take down the Aztecs 78-66 before an announced crowd of 4,411 fans at Taco Bell Arena.
“I have a coach friend who came to shoot around today, and he said he didn’t even recognize our team. He had been here in the fall,” Rice said. “That’s been our motto, that every time, not just practice, when we get together for a film session, when we get together just to talk, when we do anything ... we’re getting better. And they have that mindset and they’re committed to it.”
The win was the seventh straight overall for the Broncos (11-4, 4-0 Mountain West) and second in a row against the Aztecs (8-7, 0-3). Boise State has won four of the last five in the series. The Broncos’ 78 points are the most they have scored against San Diego State in 14 all-time meetings.
“If we do make a statement, that’s cool,” Haney said. “But if it gets pushed under the rug, it doesn’t matter. We’re just trying to win every game and just go one by one.”
The game was Rice’s 100th at home as Boise State’s head coach (83-17 in those games). Despite the snow storms, cold temperatures and 9 p.m. start, fans showed up and were loud from start to finish.
“We love playing here. Sure, we’d love 12,000 at the games and hopefully we can keep getting better as we go forward, but we understand tonight was tough,” Rice said. “We really, really appreciate the people that did.”
After trailing 21-10 midway through the first half, Boise State outscored the Aztecs 68-45 over the rest of the game. Reid came off the bench and scored 14 points in the first half on 4-for-7 shooting from 3-point range. He finished with 19 points.
“I love big games. I always have,” Reid said. “Tonight, my ball went (in). And I have teammates and coaches who trust me. It’s all about the long run.”
Junior Chandler Hutchison, senior Nick Duncan and sophomore Paris Austin each scored 12 points.
The Broncos dominated the entire stat box, outscoring San Diego State 30-4 off turnovers and held a 40-5 advantage in bench points.
“(Our bench) is so balanced. How would you even scout us?” Reid said. “We have six or seven guys on a given night that can have 20, 25 (points).”
Duncan made four 3-pointers in the second half and passed the 1,000-point mark for his career. After each made three, Duncan showed emotion, yelled to teammates and raised his hands to pump up the crowd. Each shot he made seemingly fended off any semblance of a San Diego State run.
“He just means so much to all of us. To our families, the coaches, the players, I’m cherishing every day I get with him,” Rice said. “I never even look at Nick’s stat line. Sometimes you evaluate guys (by numbers). With Nick, it’s all the intangibles.”
Boise State, the only unbeaten team remaining in Mountain West games, plays at Fresno State next Saturday night. Each notch in the win column is only adding to the Broncos’ confidence. Though they have lost two in a row at Fresno State, Rice’s team won’t be scared of the moment.
The faithful at Taco Bell Arena learned that much Saturday night.
“People love to talk about our inexperience. But we’re so tight and we’ve been this way since this group of guys has known each other,” Reid said. “Chemistry, who anyone who has played any kind of sport, when you’ve got guys that are playing together, age is a number at that point.”
Boise State 78, San Diego State 66
SAN DIEGO ST. (8-7): Cheatham 4-6 4-6 12, Hoetzel 5-13 1-2 16, Kell 2-8 5-6 9, Hemsley 2-8 3-4 7, Allen 6-8 4-5 17, Shrigley 0-3 0-0 0, Izundu 2-3 1-2 5, Gill-Caesar 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 21-52 18-25 66.
BOISE ST. (11-4): Duncan 4-7 0-0 12, Wacker 0-0 0-0 0, Austin 2-4 8-8 12, Jessup 1-3 0-0 2, Hutchison 5-16 1-5 12, Haney 7-13 4-4 19, Jorch 1-1 0-2 2, Reid 6-11 3-4 19, Oluyitan 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 26-58 16-23 78.
Halftime—Boise St. 39-35. 3-Point Goals—San Diego St. 6-18 (Hoetzel 5-8, Allen 1-1, Kell 0-2, Shrigley 0-3, Hemsley 0-4), Boise St. 10-28 (Duncan 4-7, Reid 4-8, Hutchison 1-4, Haney 1-5, Jessup 0-1, Oluyitan 0-3). Fouled Out—Cheatham. Rebounds—San Diego St. 31 (Izundu 8), Boise St. 35 (Hutchison 13). Assists—San Diego St. 8 (Kell 4), Boise St. 15 (Hutchison 5). Total Fouls—San Diego St. 23, Boise St. 19.