Boise State needed a spark in the worst way.
The Broncos, having lost three of their previous four games, looked stagnant offensively in recent weeks. On Saturday at Wyoming, head coach Leon Rice and his coaching staff decided to change the rotation.
All 10 Boise State players who played Saturday scored, led by James Reid’s game-high 16 points, and Paris Austin scored 15 off the bench as the Broncos dominated Wyoming 80-65 in an impressive display from start-to-finish.
“Myself and my staff, we had a long talk about what we needed to change the energy of the team. And it’s never one guy’s fault. But we’re a good team when we really move the ball,” Rice said. “We decided to put one of our best ball-movement lineups out there ... These guys have grown up, and they’re playing as a team. And that’s what showed tonight.”
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Austin, who started all but the first three games of the season, was out of the first five. In his place was Reid, who was informed Friday he would start for the first time since Nov. 18. True freshmen Alex Hobbs and Marcus Dickinson, who spent much of the season watching from the bench, saw a combined 32 minutes of playing time. Redshirt sophomore David Wacker and sophomore Robin Jorch even saw time on the floor together.
The cast of characters on the floor at any given time at the Arena-Auditorium looked different. The end result was near perfection.
Saturday’s victory was a much-needed bounce back for Boise State after a 19-point loss at home to Nevada earlier in the week. The Broncos held Wyoming to 3-of-21 shooting from behind the 3-point line and held the second-highest scoring team in the Mountain West nearly 12 points below its season average. Boise State also outrebounded the Cowboys, who entered the game as the top rebounding team in the conference, 42-31.
“You don’t want to place too much on it, because one game is never season-ending or season-making,” Rice said. “But it’s big. They’re swing games; 6-3 is a lot better than 5-4.”
Boise State (13-7, 6-3 MW) led for more than 37 minutes and was dominant from the start. Chandler Hutchison scored the Broncos’ first seven, then Austin got the ball rolling. He hit 6-of-8 shots in the first half en route to 13 points, getting to the rim with ease and making jumpers when dared by the Wyoming defense.
“I knew I was coming off the bench today. Coach Rice talked to me previously,” Austin said. “He just wanted me to play freely, come off the bench, be a spark plug, kind of what I did last year. ... I just came out and thought, ‘I’m going to shoot it when I can, because a lot of people leave me open (on jumpers).’ ”
Reid was 3-of-4 from behind the 3-point line. The redshirt senior led Boise State’s offense in and out of sets and was a calming influence in front of a hostile road crowd of 6,552.
“My mindset really hasn’t changed all year. What’s important to me is playing and helping these guys get wins,” Reid said. “A lot of it is just my comfort as the year’s gone on. When you take a year to redshirt when in you’re in a new program and a new system, it takes time. And I was comfortable with that process. And it’s good to be playing well now.”
Hobbs and Dickinson combined for eight points in their most significant game action. Perhaps more importantly, the pair had only one turnover. Rice’s confidence in his younger players — underclassmen scored 47 points — is a result of seeing their progression in practice.
“We push those guys really hard. They’ve shown they’re starting to do it in practice consistently, and theres a value to that,” Rice said. “Now it’s their habit.”
Boise State continues its road trip at Colorado State (14-8, 6-3) at 7 p.m. Tuesday (ESPN3). The Rams rallied to beat San Diego State 78-77 on Saturday, and they lost by a point to the Broncos on Dec. 31 in Boise. While he knows his team has to refocus for the next task, Rice was proud of his team’s effort against Wyoming.
“Our guys are responding. We have good character guys,” Rice said. “We were going through Death Valley, and they pulled themselves in.”
NOTES: Nick Duncan scored three points, giving him 1,032 in his career and moving him into a tie for 21st on the school’s career scoring list with Gregg Bunn (1970-73) and John Coker (1991-95). … Boise State started the quintet of Reid, Justinian Jessup, Hutchison, Duncan and Wacker for the fourth time this season, and the first since Nov. 18. … Boise State’s bench outscored Wyoming’s bench 32-18. The Cowboy reserves entered the game averaging 35.1 points per game.