Leon Rice apparently wasn’t kidding when he said earlier this week he’d swim across the Boise River if that’s what it would take to fill Taco Bell Arena.
The Boise State men’s basketball coach bit on the double-dog dare Wednesday night, agreeing to take the plunge if the Broncos sell out their home arena this season.
Rice better get those swim trunks ready.
In front of a season-high crowd of 7,538 fans, the Broncos won their Mountain West Conference opener 93-71 over Colorado State.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Idaho Statesman
“What a great crowd, and it’s building,” Rice said. “I think probably the deal has to be if they sell it out, I will swim across. I’ll find a shallow spot and wade across, let’s say that. I don’t want to be swept away.”
The Broncos (11-2) rewarded a spirited home crowd with a dominant victory over the Rams, leading from start to finish despite a less-than-ideal first 20 minutes of play.
Starters Lexus Williams and Chandler Hutchison each picked up two fouls early and spent most of the first half on the bench. Williams played just five minutes, and Hutchison managed eight points and an assist in seven minutes of action.
The Broncos didn’t suffer in their absence, getting 16 points apiece from sophomores Marcus Dickinson and Alex Hobbs off the bench. The 16 points were a career high for Dickinson, who sank two of Boise State’s 12 3-pointers.
“The kid’s a winner. He just keeps plugging away doing his job and doesn’t care what’s thrown at him no matter what — good, bad, whatever,” Rice said of Dickinson. “He’ll show up the next day and go to work and battle for his teammates. He’s one of the most unselfish kids I’ve ever been around and just a high, high character kid.”
Boise State’s last seven games against the Rams (7-7) each were decided by seven points or fewer. Last season, Hutchison needed a buzzer-beating 3 to win at home against them.
There was no need for heroics this time.
“It didn’t feel like that. I looked up and went, ‘Wow, we’re really up 19?’ ” said Rice, who was issued his first technical foul of the season with 6:07 to play in the second half.
Rice was arguing a foul called on Chris Sengfelder and slapped the floor with his hands to bring out the T.
The Broncos responded to their coach’s fire by outscoring the Rams 16-4 over the final 5 minutes, much of which were dominated by Hutchison. The senior scored 16 points in the final 10 minutes, including a one-handed dunk along the baseline for a game-leading 24 points.
“The highlight tonight is when the guys saved me when I got the T,” Rice said. “They finished the game right.”
Boise State continues conference play at UNLV (11-2) on Saturday. Tipoff is 9 p.m. MT, and the game will be broadcast on the AT&T Sports Network (or ROOT Northwest).
The Broncos return home Jan. 3 against New Mexico and hope to find another enthusiastic crowd.
“They were the difference-makers, to be honest,” Dickinson said of the fans. “We had more today than we’ve had all year. Believe it or not, they make a difference. We can feel their energy.”
BSU women at Colorado State
The Boise State women’s basketball team opens its Mountain West schedule against Colorado State for the third time in four seasons. Tipoff is at 7 p.m. Thursday in Fort Collins, Colo.
The Broncos (6-5) went 2-1 against the Rams (8-3) last season with each team winning away from home during the regular season before Boise State defeated top-seeded Colorado State 65-61 in the semifinals of the Mountain West Tournament.
Boise State is the defending Mountain West Tournament champion and was picked to win the conference in a preseason media poll with 221 points and seven first-place votes. The Rams landed in third with 211 points and six first-place votes.
Boise State returns home Saturday to host UNLV at 1 p.m. in Taco Bell Arena.