There are no freebies or guaranteed victories in the Mountain West. That’s a message Boise State men’s basketball coach Leon Rice has made clear on several occasions this season, particularly in matchups on the road.
The Broncos received a rude reminder of that Saturday.
Boise State entered its game at Fresno State as the only MW team without a conference loss, but Rice’s team hadn’t won at the Save Mart Center since February 2013. That drought will last at another year, as the Bulldogs led by as many as 28 points before holding off a Broncos rally for an 89-80 victory.
Boise State (11-5, 4-1) lost for the first time in eight games overall and the third straight time in Fresno.
“It’s nearly impossible to dig yourself out of that big of a hole. Our guys aren’t going to quit. I know that about them. But the hole is so deep that it’s an impossible task, almost, to dig yourself out that far because everything has to go perfect. And it didn’t go perfect,” Rice said. “It’s just life on the road in the Mountain West. It’s tough, day in and day out. ... They played an A game; we didn’t play an A game. And the team that does is going to win.”
Boise State outscored Fresno State 51-38 in the second half and was able to make things interesting. But that forgettable first half sealed the Broncos’ fate early, despite Justinian Jessup’s four 3-pointers in the final 4 minutes.
Boise State missed its first 10 shots and started the game 1-for-13 from the field. Jessup and junior Chandler Hutchison got into early foul trouble, forcing Rice to make substitutions. The Broncos quickly found themselves down by nearly 30 and trailed by 22 at halftime.
Fresno State (11-7, 3-3) shot 62.1 percent from the field in the first half and 50 percent overall. Whether it was uncontested layups off uncharacteristic turnovers or deep 3-pointers from Jahmel Taylor, the Bulldogs got any shot they wanted.
“More than missing shots, we didn’t do the things we pride ourselves on. We didn’t defend,” said James Reid, who led Boise State with 17 points. “I don’t anything in particular causes these (bad games). We got away from what makes us good. And that’s our defense. When we defend, we play well. ... And we’re not so talented that you can overcome those things.”
Sophomore Zach Haney, who scored a career-high 19 in last week’s win against San Diego State, made his first career start in place of injured sophomore forward David Wacker (left foot). He finished with four points and four rebounds. Boise State was outscored 36-20 in the paint and outrebounded 43-35.
“They were guarding pretty physically. It seemed like they were the more physical team,” Rice said. “They were pushing us out beyond our comfort zone. … They kind of dictated to us where we were going.”
Hutchison, Paris Austin and Jessup combined for 34 points in the second half and patiently chipped away at what looked to be an insurmountable Fresno State lead. Boise State was forced to foul late, and the Bulldogs made enough shots from the free-throw line to seal the victory.
Six different players scored in double figures for Fresno State, led by Deshon Taylor’s 21 points.
“I give us credit for fighting. I think for a young team, especially, it would have been easy to fold right there. You’re down 30, you got it down to single digits. There’s something to be said for that,” Reid said. “But you can’t dig yourself that big of a hole and reasonably expect to not only win the game, but recover.”
Boise State hosts New Mexico at 9 p.m. Tuesday at Taco Bell Arena. After having a week between games against San Diego State and Fresno State, the quicker turnaround could be beneficial.
“Everyone has showed that, on any given night, anything can happen (in the Mountain West). And there’s a beauty and a demise to that,” Reid said. “Any competitor, you take one on the chin like this, you’re ready to go.”