It says plenty about where the Boise State men’s basketball team stands when an 11-point win over one of the Mountain West’s top contenders feels less than satisfying.
The Broncos missed shots they normally make as well as anyone late in their 81-70 win over the Fresno State Bulldogs on Saturday at Taco Bell Arena. Free throws were nail-biting moments when they shouldn’t have been, and 3-pointers clanged off the rim.
Yet there the team was, celebrating a 3-0 conference start, a 16th straight home win and a double-digit victory for its first nine-game winning streak since the 1991-92 season.
“I guess if your offense is that bad and you still pull out a win, it’s always good,” junior forward James Webb III said.
An announced crowd of 8,140 saw an outstanding first half in which the Broncos (12-4 overall) led 51-32 at the break, shooting 18-of-27 from the field, gave way to a far different second final 20 minutes.
Boise State made just 1-of-14 3-pointers in the second half, allowing the Bulldogs (11-6, 2-2) to slowly cut into the lead, going on a 23-6 run to get within 68-64 with 4:42 to play after Boise State led by as many as 21. Not helping the Broncos’ cause was a 15-of-27 showing from the free-throw line in the last 10 minutes, 55 seconds. They came into Saturday in the top 25 percent of teams in the nation, making 72.3 percent.
“Offensively, we weren’t running as smoothly, and a big part of finishing games is free throws. We kind of sucked in this game with that,” senior guard/forward Anthony Drmic said. “... We got the job done, and that’s really all that matters.”
With the offense struggling, the Broncos found a way to win with some timely defensive plays. They held the Bulldogs to 3-of-12 shooting to end the game, and Drmic drew a key offensive foul with 2:59 to go while holding a 71-66 lead. The Broncos made 6-of-11 free throws over the next 86 seconds to get the lead back into double digits for good.
“That’s a great sign for the team, that we didn’t just run away from them with our offense,” Boise State coach Leon Rice said. “Our offense went stagnant a little bit, and we did it with our defense. That’s what you have to be able to do.”
It was the third time in the past month the Broncos have made the home crowd sweat a bit after building a big lead. They led by 17 with fewer than 7 minutes left in a Dec. 12 74-72 win over Oregon and had a 14-point halftime lead in an 84-80 win over Colorado State on Jan. 2. The tense second halves or the missed free throws aren’t much of a concern to Rice, though he did say he’s making every player take 50 “mental free throws” on Sunday.
“I’ll be really disappointed if they don’t go 50-for-50,” he said. “We’re not going to make a mountain out of a molehill. They’re good free-throw shooters; they’re good competitors.”
Boise State had a 26-8 advantage in points in the paint in the first half, finishing the game with a 38-26 edge. The missed 3-pointers more often than not were open looks, but just didn’t fall. What worked best was an attacking style that led to big dunks from Webb and sophomore Chandler Hutchison.
Webb finished with 25 points and nine rebounds, while Drmic had 13 points after not scoring Tuesday at Utah State. Marvelle Harris, the preseason conference player of the year, had a game-high 26 points for the Bulldogs. Boise State junior forward Nick Duncan added 13 points despite going 0-for-5 on 3-pointers and senior guard Mikey Thompson had 12 points.
“They committed to our 3s. ... We had guys wide open down low,” Webb said.
Next up, the Broncos will go for a school record-tying 10th straight win Wednesday at Nevada.
“We want to win the league,” Drmic said. “You have to keep winning if you want to win the league.”