Boise State head coach Leon Rice wasn’t exactly sure what the 2016-17 Broncos were before the season started.
He knew the team was athletic and had some size, but with Nick Duncan as the team’s only returning starter, Rice knew he was in for somewhat of a mixed bag early on.
Ten games in, and Rice is starting to see flashes of his team’s identity, if only for stretches at a time. Sunday evening’s game against Idaho State was the prime example.
Boise State, playing in its first game in 13 days, struggled early against Idaho State and led by four points at halftime. The Broncos amped up the intensity on both ends in the second half behind 14 of Chandler Hutchison’s team-high 16 points and cruised to a 82-59 win at Taco Bell Arena. Boise State held the Bengals to 30.8 percent from the field in the second half after they shot 46.7 percent in the first.
That defensive-minded, gritty team of the second half is what Rice wants his Broncos to be.
“With us, it’s a funny team. I’ve never had a team that’s this much cut-and-dry: when we get after it and we have an edge to us, we’re a really good team,” Rice said. “If we don’t and we try to play finesse and pretty basketball, we’re not good. And there’s no in-between for us. I think that kind of sums up the tale of two halves.”
It took 20 minutes for the Broncos (6-4) to shake off the rust of not having played since Dec. 5 at Loyola Marymount. Last weekend’s game against Portland was postponed because of poor travel conditions in Oregon.
Sunday’s first half was a back-and-forth affair, with neither team leading by more than four. While Hutchison struggled and scored two points in the half, Nick Duncan and Justinian Jessup did the heavy lifting from behind the 3-point line.
Duncan scored 15 first-half points on 4-for-9 from deep, while Jessup hit two 3s en route to eight points. Boise State hit 6-of-12 3-pointers in the first half to take a 37-33 halftime lead.
“I think it was kind of obvious, with some of the cobwebs heading into the game. We were just anxious,” Hutchison said. “Not necessarily that we hadn’t played, because we had been scrimmaging and staying shape. But just anxious to play again.”
Boise State opened the second half on a 20-4 run behind hot shooting from Hutchison and stellar defense. Hutchison scored the Broncos’ first four points of the half and helped extend the lead to 14.
Redshirt sophomore David Wacker, who didn’t play in the team’s previous game, made his presence felt as well. Wacker grabbed offensive rebounds and followed up his teammates’ missed baskets, scoring nine points and grabbing eight rebounds. The Broncos held a 21-3 edge over Idaho State in second chance points.
“Just play as hard as I could. That’s all I try to do when I get the opportunity to play,” Wacker said. “It’s almost sometimes an advantage to see the game, see how it’s going. I know that one of my big strengths is going to be bringing energy to the team.”
The Broncos led by as many as 30 in the second half. Duncan finished the game with 15 points and 8 rebounds. Freshman Justinian Jessup scored 14 points while sophomore Paris Austin chipped in 10, with nine of those coming in the second half.
Star guard Ethan Telfair led the Bengals (2-9) with 19 points.
Boise State has one game remaining against Cal State Northridge before jumping into Mountain West Conference play on Dec. 28 at Utah State. The tough, physical team that took the floor in the second half against Idaho State is the product Rice ultimately wants on a consistent basis.
If they can sustain that intensity for a whole game? Rice believes the team could be special.
“The way we defended (in the second half), what we did, that was our identity. We didn’t turn the ball over, we guarded pretty darn good and defended the 3 line real well,” Rice said. “But now we have to live there for all eternity. Then we can be good.”