The win-loss record won’t show it, but Leon Rice’s basketball team is getting better.
The Oregon Ducks can attest to that.
Boise State jumped out to a 14-point first-half lead over the No. 23 Ducks at Matthew Knight Arena on Monday night and looked primed for an upset. Despite going punch-for-punch with the Pac-12 heavyweights, the Broncos couldn’t sustain their lead and lost 68-63.
Boise State maintained its lead throughout the game before giving it up at 60-58.
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“It’s devastating for us right now. We’re hurting right now,” senior forward Nick Duncan said. “(Oregon) responded as all great teams do. They came back at us.”
From a tough slate of games at the Charleston Classic in South Carolina less than two weeks ago until now, Boise State has come a long way. The Broncos (3-3) have won two of their past three, and were in position to win Monday, so Rice is keeping the heartbreaking loss in perspective.
“The things that we can control are our effort and our energy. And I thought everyone who hit the floor gave great effort,” the coach said. “We’re getting better. There’s no doubt about it. And that’s what makes me proud of these guys. If we just keep battling and keep getting better, we’re going to be a really good basketball team. And you can’t lose sight of that.”
Boise State returns from Oregon to host SMU at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Taco Bell Arena. The Broncos play at Evansville, Ind., on Saturday and at Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles next Monday.
If the Broncos are drained of energy over the next week, they certainly played with plenty against the Ducks (5-2), surging to a double-digit lead behind the 3-point basket. Duncan missed his first shot from deep but proceeded to hit three straight to help give the Broncos a 27-13 lead.
Boise State started the game 5-for-9 from behind the arc, with all five coming from Duncan and redshirt senior James Reid. The stunned crowd of Oregon fans reached a point where they booed Duncan every time he touched the ball.
“Every place you go to, you always get booed. And I’m always the one that gets picked out. And that’s fine,” Duncan said. “I’ve taken on that challenge and accepted that role.”
While the Broncos’ success from deep was a welcomed sight, its effectiveness didn’t happen by accident. After scoring the first two baskets on layups, junior swingman Chandler Hutchison picked up a pair of fouls and missed the final six minutes of the period. The Broncos’ leading scorer finished with 8 points on 3-of-11 shooting.
The game took a drastic turn at around the 8-minute mark of the first half, as the Ducks went on a 7-0 run to cut the Bronco lead to five. Boise State hit just one of its next six from behind the 3-point line to take a 32-29 halftime lead.
Though Oregon appeared to enter halftime with momentum, Boise State rolled with the Ducks’ jabs and endured a barrage of Casey Benson 3-pointers by way of true freshman Justinian Jessup, who scored eight of his 11 points in the first nine minutes of the second half.
Sophomore point guard Paris Austin came alive in the second as well, scoring 12 of his team-high 16 points in the final 20 minutes on a series of acrobatic layups and a 3-pointer.
“They’re giving all they have, and that makes it fun to watch,’’ Rice said.
The Ducks went on another run, this time a 7-0 effort that cut Boise State’s lead to 58-57. Dylan Ennis’s subsequent 3-pointer gave Oregon its first lead since the game’s opening moments.
Sophomore guard Tyler Dorsey had six points in the final five minutes for the Ducks, including a late layup and free throw that gave his team a three-point lead with 12 seconds remaining. The Broncos appeared to steal a late possession with about 5 seconds left and a chance to tie, but the review gave the Ducks the ball.
“I told them I’m really proud of the effort. We have to understand how good we can be, because we just went toe-to-toe with a really good team,” Rice said. “We hold our heads high when we give everything we have.”
Oregon 68, Boise State 63
BOISE STATE (3-3)
Austin, Paris 5-11 5-6 16; Duncan, Nick 5-14 0-1 15; Jessup, Justinian 4-8 0-0 11; Hutchison, Chandler 3-11 2-2 8; Haney, Zach 2-5 3-4 7; Reid, James 2-5 0-0 6; Hobbs, Alex 0-0 0-0 0; Wacker, David 0-1 0-2 0; Jorch, Robin 0-1 0-0 0; Dickinson, Marcus 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-56 10-15 63.
Ennis, Dylan 4-7 9-10 18; Dorsey, Tyler 6-12 2-4 17; Bell, Jordan 4-7 0-0 8; Boucher, Chris 2-5 2-6 6; Benson, Casey 2-3 0-0 6; Brooks, Dillon 1-9 3-5 5; Pritchard, Payton 2-4 0-0 4; Bigby-Williams, Kave 1-2 1-2 3; Smith, Keith 0-1 1-2 1. Totals 22-50 18-29 68.
Boise State................... 32 31 - 63
Oregon........................ 29 39 - 68
3-point goals--Boise State 11-28 (Duncan, Nick 5-13; Jessup, Justinian 3-6; Reid, James 2-4; Austin, Paris 1-2; Haney, Zach 0-2; Hutchison, Chandler 0-1), Oregon 6-20 (Dorsey, Tyler 3-7; Benson, Casey 2-3; Ennis, Dylan 1-2; Brooks, Dillon 0-3; Pritchard, Payton 0-2; Smith, Keith 0-1; Boucher, Chris 0-2). Fouled out--Boise State-Reid, James, Oregon-None. Rebounds--Boise State 32 (Hutchison, Chandler 9), Oregon 39 (Boucher, Chris 8). Assists--Boise State 13 (Hutchison, Chandler 5), Oregon 8 (Bell, Jordan 3). Total fouls--Boise State 23, Oregon 15. Technical fouls--Boise State-None. Oregon-None. A-6824