They knew the wave was coming. It hit hard, but the Boise State Broncos were just strong enough to keep it from knocking them off their perch.
In their Mountain West men’s basketball opener, the reigning regular-season champions braced for the Colorado State Rams to respond from a 14-point halftime deficit.
“We didn’t for a minute go, ‘Well, that’s over.’ That wasn’t going to happen; we knew we’d have to keep battling right to the very end,” Boise State coach Leon Rice said.
Five times in the final 7 minutes, the Rams cut the lead to two points. Boise State, which never trailed, made the right plays late in its 84-80 win in front of 6,749 fans at Taco Bell Arena.
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“Everybody’s good in conference, so no matter how big the lead is, it’s going to dwindle down at some point,” Boise State junior forward James Webb III said.
Boise State (10-4) led by as many as 16 in the first half and had a 10-point lead with 8:16 to play, but they didn’t close out the Rams (8-6) until the final seconds to extend their home winning streak to 16 games, tied for second-best in school history.
Leading 80-78, senior guard Mikey Thompson missed a layup with 12 seconds left, but put back his own miss to make it a two-score game and cap perhaps the best performance of his career. Senior guard/forward Anthony Drmic answered a Colorado State layup with two free throws with 2.4 seconds left to seal it.
“It’s a new year, start of conference. You’ve got to step up and make plays to win games, help guys like (Webb). I had to step up from the start of the game and do it the right way,” Thompson said.
The Broncos, who started slow in their 64-56 win over UC Davis on Wednesday, came out red-hot. They held the Rams to 4-of-15 shooting to start the game and forced 10 first-half turnovers for a 42-28 halftime edge. Boise State turned 16 total turnovers into 29 points, while Colorado State scored just four points off eight takeaways.
“It helped us out a lot. We’ve just got to keep doing it,” Thompson said.
But like Boise State’s 17-point lead with 6:45 left in a 74-72 win over Oregon on Dec. 12, it wasn’t safe against a good team. The Rams hit six of their first seven 3-point attempts of the second half, then all five of their final field goals, shooting 63 percent (17-of-27) in the last 20 minutes.
“That’s why they were picked to win the league — I also knew they have a tendency to let teams back in it,” Colorado State coach Larry Eustachy said. “I’ve had teams just like that, where they kind of get bored and let teams back in. Their Oregon game was a great example of that. So, I kept telling our kids that they’ll let us back in and give us a chance. But we just had (young players) who had to make too many plays against four-year guys.”
When asked if that was a concern, Rice said, “When you’ve got two good teams, they’re going to make a run.” He noted “you can’t trade anything for experience,” leaning on Webb (28 points and nine rebounds), Drmic (21 points) and most notably Thompson (18 points, nine assists, six rebounds, three steals and no turnovers).
“Everything didn’t go right, but we didn’t drop our heads and say, ‘Oh no, here it goes.’ We just kept plugging away and got the job done,” he added.
Boise State continues its title defense with its first conference road game Tuesday at Utah State, where the Broncos won for the first time in 19 tries last season. The effort awaiting them, they know, will be much like Colorado State’s.
“There’s no sneaking up on people, not anymore,” Webb said.
Broncos 84, Rams 80
Tuesday: Boise State (10-4, 1-0 MW) at Utah State (9-4, 1-1), 8 p.m., CBS Sports Network