Things were already going well for RJ Williams on the basketball court Saturday afternoon at Taco Bell Arena, and they only got better when the clock hit zeros.
Williams had 17 points and eight boards for the Boise State men’s basketball team in an 83-71 victory over Pacific, but the 6-foot-7 junior guard’s day was made by a young fan who surprised him with a box of Mike and Ike’s candy after the game.
Williams — who’s known to have a sweet tooth — came into the postgame press conference beaming.
“It was one of our best games, but at the same time, we’re still growing. We’re responding,” Williams said. “We have many more of those games to come.”
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For more than a month, coach Leon Rice has been telling fans not to lose hope, and the Broncos rewarded the 3,549 fans in attendance Saturday with perhaps their best collective performance of the season.
The Broncos led from wire to wire against the Tigers of the West Coast Conference and managed to stand their ground when their lead was contested several times in the second half.
“You get to the point as a coach where you want it so bad for them, because they’ve been responding the right way to tough situations,” said Rice, whose team has lost four games this season by a single possession.
“... They had a heartbreaking loss (at Loyola Marymount) and had one day to practice and get ready. I was just so proud of the way they lifted themselves back up by the bootstraps and they came and fought. If you don’t fight against Pacific, then you’re in big trouble, because that’s a tough team.”
Pacific entered the matchup with a record of 9-4, while the Broncos had lost two straight road games to fall to 4-7 overall. Boise State had a one-point lead with 6.3 seconds left at LMU on Wednesday, but ended up losing 70-69 when the Lions’ James Batemon scored on a layup as time expired.
Rice has remained steadfast with his players despite the disappointment, and Saturday’s win confirmed the Broncos are on the right track.
“I think that’s a big testament to our coaching staff,” Boise State junior Justinian Jessup said. “They just try to keep us uplifted and stay on us, but also encourage us.”
Jessup scored a game-high 20 points with four 3-pointers to move into a tie for ninth on the Broncos’ all-time list with 171 career triples.
He made a 3-pointer on the Broncos’ opening possession and had two 3s within the first two minutes of the game. His hot start caught on with the rest of the Broncos, as they built as much as an 18-point lead in the first half.
“ I just felt like our ball movement, our defense and our toughness was just a lot better than it has been the past month,” Jessup said. “We’re just getting better every day, and to see that out on the court today, it feels really good.”
A Jessup jumper with 8:28 to go in the first half put Boise State up 31-13, but Pacific made four 3-pointers over the final 7 minutes to go into the break down 39-35.
After Pacific scored the first basket of the second half, Boise State went on a 12-0 run. And the Broncos responded again when the Tigers pulled within 61-58 with 9:20 to play. Williams accounted for eight straight points to go back up 69-61, getting a dunk at the 7:51 mark off an assist from Pat Dembley, who corralled a loose ball under the Broncos’ basket.
“Maybe a month ago, if something went wrong, we couldn’t respond,” Rice said. “Now we’re doing a better job of ‘So what? Now what?’ ”
The Broncos (5-7) will be off for Christmas break until Dec. 26. They play their final nonconference game at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 29, against Oregon (CBS Sports Network).
It will be the second game this month between the two teams. The Ducks won 66-54 on Dec. 15 at Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene, Oregon.
BOISE STATE 83, PACIFIC 71
Ajare Sanni 5-13 1-4 15; Roberto Gallinat 3-10 7-7 15; Jahlil Tripp 5-7 3-6 13; Jahbril Price-Noel 3-7 5-6 13; Jeremiah Bailey 2-2 1-3 5; Lafayette Dorsey 1-4 1-2 4; Brandon McGhee 2-2 0-0 4; Anthony Townes 1-3 0-0 2; Zach Cameron 0-0 0-0 0; Kendall Small 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-48 18-28 71.
BOISE STATE (5-7)
Justinian Jessup 6-12 4-5 20; RJ Williams 6-8 5-7 17; Zach Haney 6-11 2-7 14; Marcus Dickinson 1-5 6-6 8; Alex Hobbs 3-5 2-2 8; Derrick Alston 2-3 2-2 7; Pat Dembley 2-5 2-2 6; Malek Harwell 1-3 0-0 3; David Wacker 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-52 23-31 83.
Pacific....................... 35 36 — 71
Boise State................... 39 44 — 83
3-point goals — Pacific 9-25 (Sanni 4-10; Price-Noel 2-4; Gallinat 2-7; Dorsey 1-3; Tripp 0-1), Boise State 6-17 (Jessup 4-8; Alston 1-1; Harwell 1-3; Dickinson 0-1; Hobbs 0-2; Dembley 0-2). Fouled out — Pacific-None, Boise State-Jessup, Williams. Rebounds — Pacific 29 (Townes 7), Boise State 32 (Williams 8). Assists — Pacific 11 (Price-Noel 4), Boise State 9 (Dembley 2; Hobbs 2). Total fouls — Pacific 25, Boise State 22. Technical fouls — Pacific-team, Boise State-None. A — 3,549.