Coach Leon Rice chose safe over sorry on Sunday night and learned a lot about the grit of his team in the process.
The decision to pull senior standout Chandler Hutchison after he hit his head hard on the court in the first half may have cost his Boise State men’s basketball team a Puerto Rico Tip-off championship, but not before the rest of the Broncos gave Iowa State a scare in the final minutes.
Boise State trailed by as many as 24 points before cutting the deficit to four on two occasions with less than 2 minutes to play in an eventual 75-64 loss to the Cyclones (3-2) at HTC Arena in Conway, S.C.
“We were kind of a little bit shell shocked there. You lost Chandler. You didn’t know what was going on. We were trying to get our rotation right, and they crept away from us,” Rice told KTIK 1350 AM. “We regrouped in the second half and came out and battled. I was really proud of the way we fought the second half.”
Hutchison went to the bench with 12:22 to play in the first half and Boise State down 14-10. The Broncos initially lost their confidence seeing their preseason Mountain West player of the year in street clothes when he returned with a trainer from the locker room.
But Hutchison remained upbeat, putting his arms around teammates during timeouts and jumping to his feet every time the Broncos got a bucket.
Graduate transfers Christian Sengfelder and Lexus Williams stepped up in Hutchison’s absence. Williams scored a season-high 16 points with four 3-pointers, and Sengfelder made all four of his triples in the second half and finished with a team-leading 20 points.
Boise State (4-1) made nine of its 11 3-pointers in the second half, highlighted by three 3s from Sengfelder over about a two-minute stretch that reduced the Cyclones’ lead from double to single digits.
Iowa State senior guard Donovan Jackson kept the Broncos from completing the comeback, however, scoring 11 points in the final three minutes. Jackson led all scorers with 26 points and his 76 points in three games set a Puerto Rico Tip-off record.
“We did a good job in the second half to play together as a team. We never stopped believing, even more when we got it down to four points,” Sengfelder said. “You’ve got to give credit to Iowa State, they played tremendous. They hit big shots.”
Iowa State’s Nick Weiler-Babb was named the tournament MVP, and he was joined on the all-tournament team by Broncos Sengfelder and Hutchison.
“It was a great tournament for us. You’d liked it to end better. We’re not into moral victories or anything like that,” Rice told KTIK. “... We came here to win this tournament, and we didn’t get it done, so our guys are disappointed. I’d be disappointed if they weren’t disappointed.
“I told them we could be the victims and feel sorry for ourselves because we were down a soldier at halftime, or we can go out and fight, and that’s what we did. We came out and fought and came back against a good team.”
Boise State’s next game is against Loyola Marymount on Saturday at Taco Bell Arena. Tipoff is 7 p.m.
It’s unclear if Hutchison suffered a concussion when his head hit the floor, and his status for Saturday’s game is uncertain.