The Boise State men’s basketball team has won 23 games in 2017-18 — tied for the fourth-most victories in program history — but these Broncos are more likely to be remembered for what they didn’t accomplish.
For the third season in a row, the higher-seeded Broncos lost in the Mountain West Tournament quarterfinals, this time letting a lead slip away in the closing minutes of a 78-75 loss to No. 7 Utah State on Thursday night at the Thomas & Mack Center.
Instead of an NCAA Tournament berth, the Broncos likely are headed to the NIT.
“You don’t measure a program by a three-day tournament. You measure it by how it does in the league every year, because that’s over the course of three months. And that’s night in, night out,” Boise State coach Leon Rice said. “One game, anything can happen in college basketball, unless you’re by far the most talented team. And that’s not who we’ve been. We’re not by far the most talented team.
“We’ve got a bunch of tough kids that compete every night, that battle and they’re in every single game. You just didn’t win the last four minutes tonight.”
The Broncos (23-8) led 73-70 with 2:28 to play, but Koby McEwen and Sam Merrill each hit key 3-pointers in the final 2 minutes to propel the Aggies (17-16) to an upset of the No. 2 Broncos.
Merrill matched his career high with seven 3-pointers and totaled a game-high 28 points. The sophomore guard was 7-for-10 from deep, and his final 3-pointer with 31 seconds left put the Aggies ahead 77-73.
“It’s a tough pill to swallow. It’s frustrating. Credit to them,” Boise State senior Lexus Williams said. “They weathered a lot of storms during the game. They kept coming back and coming back. They didn’t lay down at all.”
The Broncos put the ball in the hands of their best player and potential first-round NBA Draft pick with 7.6 seconds left and a chance to force overtime.
The moment simply wasn’t meant to be.
Chandler Hutchison’s potential game-tying 3-point attempt from the left elbow bounced off the back of the rim, leaving the Broncos with nothing but disappointment.
“Those are the shots he is supposed to take, and a lot of those are shots he makes. Tonight they just didn’t go down, and they’re not going to go down every night,” Williams said. “But just like I told (Hutchison) last time when we lost at Utah State, you did everything you could do. And it’s something that you have to live with, it was a good shot.”
Williams, a graduate transfer from Valparaiso, led Boise State with a career-high 24 points, five assists, four rebounds and two steals. He kept the Broncos afloat in the first half with 14 points as Hutchison went to the bench with two fouls and 13:29 to go before halftime.
Sophomore Alex Hobbs, the Mountain West’s Sixth Man of the Year, contributed valuable minutes in place of Hutchison. Hobbs scored all nine of his points over the final 9 minutes of the first half for a 40-32 Boise State lead.
Utah State took its first lead of the game, 55-54, on a McEwen jumper at the 11:12 mark of the second half. The Aggies went on to make five 3s over the final 10 minutes, each one a palpable blow to the Broncos’ confidence.
“They just kind of hung with us, hung with us, and we couldn’t break away from them,” Rice said. “They did a terrific job of making some big shots down the stretch.”
Hutchison had four points at halftime and finished with 14, and senior Chris Sengfelder and sophomore Justinian Jessup chipped in 11 points apiece.
The Broncos likely will get one more postseason game, but it isn’t the one they wanted.
“All three of those seniors, I wanted it so bad for them, they deserved it. They’ve done some great things,” Rice said. “I told them in the locker room, it doesn’t change how I feel about this team. They’re all heartbroken. We’re all heartbroken and wanted to keep this thing rolling.”
Men: College of Idaho 66, Mayville State (N.D.) 50
The College of Idaho rolled past Mayville State in the first round of the NAIA Division II National Championships on Thursday in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Three Coyotes scored in double digits, led by Nate Bruneel’s 14 points. Talon Pinckney added 13 points and five assists, and Roosevelt Adams came a rebound short of a double-double with 11 points and nine boards.
C of I (28-6) will play Dakota Wesleyan (S.D.) at 6:30 p.m. MT on Friday. The game will be broadcast on 99.1 FM.
Men: Southern Utah 92, Idaho 78
The Vandals entered the Big Sky tournament with the No. 2 seed but were stunned by the No. 10 seed in the quarterfinals.
Mountain West Tournament schedules
At The Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas
All times Mountain
Boise State 76, Colorado State 51
Nevada 67, Wyoming 63
Boise State vs. Nevada, 1 p.m.
UNLV 97, Air Force 90, OT
Utah State 76, Colorado State 65
Wyoming 74, San Jose State 61
Nevada 79, UNLV 74
San Diego State 64, Fresno State 52
Utah State 78, Boise State 75
New Mexico 85, Wyoming 75
Nevada vs. San Diego State, 7 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)
Utah State vs. New Mexico, 9:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)
Championship game, 4 p.m. (CBS)