Boise State Basketball

Boise State basketball in search of stingier defense

New Mexico’s Tim Williams shoots over Boise State’s Nick Duncan during the second half of their basketball game in Boise on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016. New Mexico won 88-83.
New Mexico’s Tim Williams shoots over Boise State’s Nick Duncan during the second half of their basketball game in Boise on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016. New Mexico won 88-83. The Associated Press

Some of Boise State’s veteran players still sport the “214” T-shirts printed up after the 2012-13 season, when the basketball team finished 214th in the nation in field goal percentage defense, a motivational tactic to improve that rank.

The Broncos would prefer being at No. 214 heading into Tuesday’s home game against Utah State.

Standing at 245th nationally (44.6 percent) entering the week, the Broncos know if their defensive issues continue, a shot at their third NCAA Tournament in four years is in severe doubt.

“I feel like if we keep harping what we need to do on defense, everybody will come together,” senior guard Mikey Thompson said. “We just need to keep harping on it and holding guys accountable for their mistakes.”

Boise State has allowed opponents to make 557-of-1,249 field goals this season. Even allowing 10 fewer would put the Broncos at No. 214, and could have been the difference in another win or two.

“The stretches we had where we competed on defense, that’s how we got our runs and started to make shots,” Thompson said after the 88-83 loss to New Mexico on Saturday. “Even when we’re guarding the guys we’re not usually guarding, we’ve just got to get out there and compete and help each other. We just got to learn from it. We need to sit down and dig deep. If we want to really accomplish our mission and move to the NCAA Tournament, we need to close out games.”

Many of the defensive struggles have occurred in the second half, most notably in the Broncos’ two losses last week. They lost after an eight-point halftime lead on the road at UNLV and a one-point halftime deficit at home against New Mexico. The Rebels and Lobos shot 57.1 and 56.5 percent, respectively, in the last 20 minutes of those games.

The Broncos were 106th nationally last season in field goal defense (41.6 percent) and fifth in Mountain West games (41.7). Halfway through the Mountain West slate, the Broncos are ninth, with league foes shooting 46.4 percent.

“There are no guys that aren’t playing as hard as they can. It just has to mean everything to them,” coach Leon Rice said.

Though it has struggled getting stops in the halfcourt and in transition, the defense has shown at times it can be tenacious. The Broncos are in the top 100 nationally, forcing 14.1 turnovers per game, and are 77-17 under Rice when opponents shoot less than 45 percent.

“If we want to be in contention to win the Mountain West, we can’t just bring it here and there, we need to bring it every possession if we want to be the team we want to be,” senior guard Lonnie Jackson said.

Dave Southorn: 208-377-6420, @IDS_southorn

Utah State (11-9, 3-6 Mountain West) at Boise State (15-7, 6-3)

  • When: 7 p.m. Tuesday
  • Where: Taco Bell Arena
  • TV: ESPN3
  • Radio: KBOI 670 AM
  • Black out: Boise State will wear its black uniforms, and fans attending are asked to also wear black.
  • Tickets: $7-$18 juniors, $8-$19 seniors, $9-$20 adults at the arena box office or BroncoSports.com/tickets
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