Perhaps the gauntlet schedule finally caught up with the Boise State men’s basketball team.
Despite a late game-tying 3-pointer from senior Nick Duncan, and strong late-game defense that held Evansville without a field goal for the final 3:40, the Purple Aces cashed in on free throws and defeated Boise State 72-67 on Saturday at the Mountain West/Missouri Valley Challenge.
“There’s some real positives with the way we competed,” Boise State head coach Leon Rice said. “That was a game (Evansville) could have blown open.’’
Boise State trailed 58-51 with about six minutes remaining, but leading scorer Chandler Hutchison came alive in the second half to score 16 of his 19 points. Trailing 66-63, Duncan added a 3-pointer that tied the game with less than two minutes remaining.
Evansville converted all six of its free throws in the final minute.
The game was Boise State’s third in six days. The team, which also played in Eugene, Ore., and Boise this week, flies from Indiana to Los Angeles to play Loyola Marymount on Monday.
“We don’t make excuses for stuff, but we have to get our legs back under us,” Rice said. “But I was proud of us.”
The Broncos (4-4) got off to an uncharacteristically slow start at the Ford Center on Saturday. In its two games against Oregon and SMU, Boise State surged ahead to early double-digit leads. But against Evansville (4-4) , the Broncos shot just 33.3 percent from the field in the first half and went scoreless for a 3 ½ minute stretch. Evansville took advantage of the Boise State scoring drought to go on a 13-0 run.
“They were very active on defense. We’re very oriented on driving hard and finding our shooter,” Hutchison said. “But they make it hard.”
Though shots weren’t falling early, Boise State kept chipping away with help from an unfamiliar name. With Hutchison and freshman Justinian Jessup struggling from the field (combined 2-for-10), it was center Robin Jorch who took command with 8 points and 4 rebounds in 9 minutes. He ended up with a career-high 12 points.
“(Jorch) was a huge difference in that game,” Rice said. “He made some big, big plays.”
Evansville shot 52 percent from the field in the first half but trailed Boise State at the half 32-30, due in part to Boise State’s ability to get the free throw line. The Broncos shot 9-for-13 compared to three attempts for the Purple Aces.
Evansville’s Jaylon Brown took over early in the second half, scoring 7 points in the first 8 minutes to help the Purple Aces gain a five-point lead. The senior star scored 16 of his game-high 21 in the second half, helping the Aces to a 51-49 lead with just under 9 minutes remaining in regulation.
Boise State kept battling back with timely baskets from Hutchison and sophomore Paris Austin, who scored 7 points in the second half. Though Duncan tied the game at 66-66 with his late 3-pointer, Evansville got to the free throw line. After committing just six personal fouls in the first half, Boise State was charged with 15 in the final 20 minutes.
“This one hurts. But we can’t lose sight of the team we’re becoming,” Hutchison said. “As hard as it’s going to be, we have to try to take the positives with those two games (against Oregon and SMU).”
Tip-off on Monday between Boise State and Loyola Marymount (2-2) is set for 8 p.m. MT at Gersten Pavilion.