Call it a sigh of relief, or call it a welcome sight. But when Boise State’s Justinian Jessup and Nick Duncan hit their first 3-pointers of the game Saturday afternoon against Air Force, the weight of the world seemed to disappear off their shoulders.
Prior to Saturday’s game, Duncan was 9-for-48 from behind the 3-point line over the previous seven games, while Jessup had scored in double-figures just once since New Year’s. After combining for four 3-pointers in the first half and seven overall, consider them both out of their slumps.
Jessup and Duncan ended up with 14 and nine points, respectively, and four Broncos finished in double figures as Boise State defeated Air Force 76-66 for its fourth straight victory. The win puts the Broncos a half-game ahead of idle Nevada at the top of the Mountain West standings.
“I think for both (me and Duncan), it was a confidence builder today. All the credit goes to our teammates,” Jessup said. “The scouting report was, we drive, they’re going to sink in. The shots were there, and we just ended up hitting them.”
After trailing by a point with 7:18 remaining, Boise State (16-7, 9-3) went on a decisive 13-0 run that was highlighted by key shots from redshirt senior James Reid and Jessup. The Broncos led by as many as 14 points in the first half and endured a pair of 10-0 Air Force (10-15, 3-9) runs in the win. Air Force entered the game averaging 8.4 3-pointers per game (third in the Mountain West) but was held to five makes from deep Saturday.
“We came out great. They made a nice run (and) took the lead,” Boise State head coach Leon Rice said. “But then our guys responded and finished the game.”
Immediately after hitting his first shot of the night four minutes into the first, Duncan was visibly excited. He showed emotion after each of his three first-half makes and could only grin as his halfcourt buzzer beater to end the half barely rimmed out.
“It’s a relief. It’s just a confidence booster,” Duncan said. “(But) it doesn’t matter how I shoot. They’re always encouraging me. I love my team, and they always have my back.”
Sophomore Paris Austin scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half and was joined by Jessup, redshirt sophomore David Wacker (10 points) and junior Chandler Hutchison (11) in double-figure scoring. Hutchison was held without a field goal until a dunk with less than two minutes remaining and scored the first nine of his points from the free-throw line.
“That’s been kind of the strength of our team. We didn’t know it could be, thinking Chandler and Nick would have to get 15, 20 points every single night for us to even be competitive,” Rice said. “Those are great signs for our team.”
Duncan, Reid and freshman Alex Hobbs each finished with nine points. Boise State shot 41.8 percent from the field compared to 48.1 percent for Air Force but made 10 3-pointers and finished 20-of-30 from the free-throw line. Seven of the nine Broncos who played Saturday scored.
“We’re deeper than people think,” Jessup said. “Everybody can contribute.”
Boise State plays at New Mexico (15-10, 8-5) at 8 p.m. Tuesday in a crucial game for both teams. The Lobos defeated the Broncos 81-70 in their first meeting this season. Boise State is 5-1 in conference road games this season.
“It’s definitely one of the (loudest arenas). You walk off the bench, high-five everyone down at the end of the bench, and there’s the student section right there,” Duncan said. “We’ll just take the same mentality like we have the last six games. Coach Rice preaches the road games and how valuable they are. ... We’re just going to do the same thing we do every time we go on the road and get a W.”
Notes: The Broncos are 5-0 all-time when wearing black uniforms at home. ... Hutchison recorded his ninth double-double of the season with 11 points and 11 rebounds. Hutchison has scored in double figures in all 12 Mountain West games. Saturday marked his first double-double since Jan. 14 at Fresno State. ... Boise State is 9-3 through 12 conference games for the eighth time in program history and the first time since 2008. ... Saturday’s official crowd was 7,208.