Boise State men’s basketball coach Leon Rice needs to rewrite his Christmas list for Santa.
He already unwrapped item No. 1.
The Broncos’ bench players energized the team and Taco Bell Arena midway through the first half Saturday and sparked Boise State to a 74-72 victory against No. 24 Oregon.
“That’s been on my Christmas list this whole month to develop this bench,” Rice said. “We’re only going to be as good as they can get. I’ve seen the development coming. ... I credit our bench for changing that game in the first half. Then we played a great stretch of basketball for a long, long time.”
The win was the Broncos’ first against a ranked team since Feb. 28 (No. 24 San Diego State), first against a ranked team at home since February 2009 (No. 21 Utah State) and first against a ranked nonconference opponent since November 2012 (No. 11 Creighton).
Oregon (7-2) was the first ranked nonconference opponent to play the Broncos (7-4) in Boise in eight years.
“You’re going to look up in March, and they’re going to be in the hunt for the Pac-12 title,” Rice said. “This is going to be the gift that keeps on giving.”
And it so easily could have gone the other way — a heartbreaking loss that could have rippled through the season.
The Broncos led 67-50 with 6 minutes, 45 seconds to play. They made one field goal the rest of the game, missed four free throws and committed four turnovers.
Senior Anthony Drmic, who scored a team-high 19 points, tweeted an apology immediately after the game. He was responsible for all of the missed free throws and two of the turnovers. Drmic and senior Mikey Thompson combined for turnovers on the Broncos’ last three possessions.
“Mikey said it, too — two senior leaders, we can’t finish the game off like that,” Drmic said. “We have to put it away at the free-throw line and taking care of the ball. ... It’s just got to be something you can do to be a great team.”
Oregon, which went miserably cold after an 8-for-10 start from the field, rediscovered its scoring touch in the closing minutes. Sophomore Dillon Brooks, who finished with a game-high 26 points, scored 10 of the Ducks’ last 22 points.
The Ducks held the ball down 74-72 with 27 seconds left. They didn’t have a timeout and didn’t run the play coach Dana Altman wanted. Brooks dribbled out much of the clock, looked for a 3-point attempt but was stymied by Boise State sophomore Chandler Hutchison and drove to the basket. Brooks earned a clean look but missed the shot while absorbing contact from Boise State’s Nick Duncan.
“It was my time to finish it and tie the game up, but it didn’t fall,” Brooks said.
One official raised his arm but didn’t blow his whistle.
“The ruling on the floor was that the defender was legal and vertical, therefore not responsible for any contact,” game official David Hall said in a statement released by Boise State.
It was the second time in four nights that the Broncos’ opponent took a shot to tie or win in the final second and missed. The Broncos beat Loyola Marymount by one point Wednesday.
The feel was much different this time because the Broncos had built such a large lead.
“I don’t think those guys would have forgiven themselves,” Rice said. “Same for us as coaches.”
The game turned in the first half as Hutchison, redshirt freshman Zach Haney, senior Montigo Alford and true freshman Paris Austin came off the bench to inject some aggression and energy into the team.
The Ducks led 21-11 after 8 minutes.
“To be a good team, you have to have impact guys off the bench,” Drmic said. “(Hutchison and Haney) came off the bench doing big things, rebounding, hitting shots.”
Hutchison scored eight points, including a putback for the Broncos’ final points of the game, grabbed seven rebounds and chased down several loose balls with hustle and determination.
“We call those plays winning plays,” Hutchison said.
Haney made all three of his shots for seven points and grabbed four rebounds. Alford delivered a spectacular assist on a 3-pointer in the first half but sprained an ankle on the play and didn’t return. That led to Austin, who was benched early in the Portland game, held out of the Loyola Marymount game and kept out of practice Friday because of strep throat. Austin finished with two points, two rebounds and two assists.
Rice has been working through roles as the Broncos have played this season because he didn’t have all of the players on the court together in the preseason. Hutchison, a starter last year, is learning to become a sparkplug off the bench.
He played 27 minutes against Oregon, fourth-most on the team.
“He’s giving us great energy on the boards,” Rice said. “He’s making some great impact plays. He guards a lot of their best players, uses his length. ... He’s getting better and better right in front of our eyes and he’s accepting his role.”
After Oregon’s hot start, Boise State outscored Oregon 30-7 the rest of the first half. Over a roughly 25-minute span, the scoring differential was 56-29.
The victory, combined with the four-point, last-minute deficit the Broncos overcame against Loyola Marymount, provided the boost of momentum and confidence the Broncos needed after a difficult start. Three of their four losses have come against ranked teams.
“It’s huge, and it can swing a season,” Rice said. “Those are the games you have to win to have a special season, and we just had two of them back to back.”
NOTES: Senior transfer Lonnie Jackson made his second straight start for the Broncos. ... Oregon leading scorer Tyler Dorsey, a freshman, missed his second straight game with an injury. ... Oregon sophomore forward Jordan Bell, who led the Pac-12 in blocks last season, made his season debut. He had been out with a broken foot. ... Attendance: 10,239.