No fiery speech was needed, it was pretty simple: Boise State had to get better on defense.
Leading by three at the half against Northern Arizona on Monday, the Broncos allowed the Lumberjacks to make just four of their first 15 shots after the break.
It was enough to let Boise State stretch its lead to as much as 25, picking up its first win via the 101-81 rout in its home opener at Taco Bell Arena. Five Broncos scored in double figures, giving the team a boost as it heads on the road for a huge test at No. 12 Arizona on Thursday.
“It wasn’t as much of an adjustment, it was just playing harder,” senior guard/forward Anthony Drmic said. “When we play good defense, we can get stops and we can make runs on teams.”
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The Lumberjacks hung around early in the second half, trailing 60-53 with 14:45 to play. That’s when the Boise State (1-1) defense woke up, pacing a 20-2 run that included three turnovers. Northern Arizona (0-2) shot 45.7 percent in the first half and 38.7 percent in the second.
“Those runs start with stops. We were playing pretty decent offense the first half, shooting 52 percent, but when you’re just trading baskets, it’s hard to make a run,” Boise State coach Leon Rice said.
There was another improvement on the defensive end for the Broncos, stopping the opposing offense while not allowing it to get to the free throw line. The Lumberjacks attempted 20 free throws. In Friday’s season-opening 74-72 loss at Montana, the Griz attempted 36.
Northern Arizona guard Kris Yanku was 4-for-4 from the line. He attempted 289 last season, “100 more than (former Bronco) Derrick Marks, which is inconceivable,” Rice said.
Freshman guard Paris Austin’s 3-pointer with 8 seconds left made sure it was the first time Boise State scored more than 100 points in a game since Nov. 15, 2013. Drmic and junior forward James Webb III had 22 points apiece, senior guard Mikey Thompson had 17 points off the bench, sophomore guard Chandler Hutchison had 12 points and junior forward Nick Duncan had 11.
Webb and Hutchison had 11 rebounds apiece the first Bronco pair to have double-doubles in the same game since Dec. 19, 2009.
“It’s exciting, especially with the athletes we’ve got, namely with Webb and Chandler, just being able to play above the rim and get rebounds we may not have gotten without those kind of guys,” Drmic said. “We have the guys, we have the tools and I think we can have a great season.”
Rice added a new option into the rotation when sophomore center David Wacker checked in 6:32 into the contest. Initially ticketed for a redshirt year, Wacker played 13 minutes, scored four points and had four rebounds. Boise State outscored Northern Arizona by 13 when he was in the game.”
“I’ve agonized over this decision a lot, but I just felt like something was missing from our team,” Rice said. “He’s our best talker, our best energy guy and that’s kind of what this team needed.”
It’s a quick turnaround for the Broncos as they head to Tucson to face the Wildcats. It will be the next step in what the Broncos hope is further improvement, especially with the defensive effort.
“We got better in the second half tonight, and that was encouraging, but we have to get a heck of a lot better the next two days,” Rice said.
Broncos 101, Lumberjacks 81
Thursday: Boise State (1-1) at No. 12 Arizona (2-0), 6:30 p.m. (Pac-12)