Never one to overreact to the result of a single game, Boise State basketball player Nick Duncan suggests that Tuesday night’s matchup against New Mexico could be season-defining.
The Broncos (11-5, 4-1 Mountain West), filled with underclassmen making significant contributions, were one of the biggest surprises in the Mountain West with its 4-0 conference start. Nailbiting wins over Utah State and Colorado State mixed with convincing victories over UNLV and San Diego State helped build confidence and poise.
Then the bubble burst.
Boise State played at Fresno State on Saturday and found itself down by 28 points midway through the first half. Though they battled back, the Broncos fell 89-80, snapping their seven-game winning streak and ending their perfect conference record.
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With two days to recover, Boise State continues conference play against New Mexico (10-8, 3-3) with more than a win or loss on the line. How the young Broncos bounce back from their first loss in more than a month could impact the rest of the season.
“Coming off a loss, (it’s) a home game, we want to protect our home court. It’s a defining game,” said Duncan, a senior forward. “But it’s (also) just another game. We won seven straight and then we had one bad game. We’re going to come out strong, just keep doing what we’re doing and go back to the reasons why we won.”
Everything that could have gone wrong at the Save Mart Center did for the Broncos. Boise State started 1-for-13 from the field and trailed by 22 points at halftime.
For the first time in months, Boise State’s youth showed.
“I think our guys were ready to play. It was just one of those situations where the ball wouldn’t go down early, and we grew desperate too quickly and got away from what we do,” coach Leon Rice said. “It was the first time in a while that we’ve really looked young and inexperienced.”
As Duncan watched game film, he said he noticed a theme that led to stagnant offense: a lack of ball movement. When the Broncos made extra passes, they were successful. It was a big reason for the team’s 51 second-half points and for its offensive success all season.
The Broncos have every intention of taking those learned lessons into their game against New Mexico.
“It’s probably a good loss, to learn from it. I think it’s a good learning curve for us,” Duncan said. “We were just going away from what’s been so successful for us. … Giving up one more pass, getting a great shot instead of a good shot. We were getting OK shots, but we could have made a few more passes. It’s great to watch that film, to see how bad we played and we only lost by nine. We just want to take the positives out.”
The Lobos are coming off one of their most impressive performances of the season, an 84-71 win at Colorado State. Led by guard Elijah Brown and forward Tim Williams, New Mexico has shown glimpses of what made them the No. 3 pick in the Mountain West preseason poll.
“I’ve seen all along how good they are, how talented they are,” Rice said. “They have two of the top five players (in the Mountain West).”
Brown, a Butler transfer and the preseason Mountain West Player of the Year, is averaging 17.5 points per game, down from the 21.7 he averaged in 2015-16. Part of that is due to the emergence of Williams, a Samford transfer who is averaging 18.3 points and 7.2 rebounds in his second season with the Lobos. New Mexico won both meetings with BSU last season.
Tuesday’s game is not a must-win for Boise State, but a victory would be a confidence booster for a team that looked out of sorts Saturday.
“It’s big,” Duncan said. “Coming off with a win would be huge. They’ve got some great players.”
Boise State plays at San Jose State on Saturday.
BSU (11-5, 4-1) vs. New Mexico (10-8, 3-3)
- When: 9 p.m. Tuesday
- Where: Taco Bell Arena (12,480), Boise
- TV: ESPNU (Cable One 136/1136, DirecTV 208, Dish 141)
- Radio: KBOI 670 AM (Bob Behler and Abe Jackson). Fans can also listen to the game at BroncoSports.com
- Tickets: Prices start at $10 (adults), $9 (seniors) and $8 (juniors) and are available at the Taco Bell Arena box office and broncosports.com.
- Did you know? Boise State has won its last two games after losses at Fresno State (def. Wyoming in 2014 and UNLV in 2015)