It was Groundhog Day for the Boise State basketball team for most of Tuesday’s game at Taco Bell Arena: The offense not finding much inside the 3-point line, an opponent shooting lights out.
After brutal defensive stretches during a two-game losing streak, it continued into the first half against Utah State, but the Broncos willed themselves to avoid a recurring nightmare finish.
Eager to erase a 10-point halftime deficit, the Broncos put together a monster final 10 minutes, scoring 23 of the final 32 points to pull out a 70-67 win.
“It’s a credit to our guys. They have some backbone; they have some character. They could’ve surrendered, could’ve found ways to lose that game — but instead they found ways to get it done,” Boise State coach Leon Rice said.
Boise State (16-7, 7-3 Mountain West) allowed 87 and 88 points in its two losses last week, with UNLV and New Mexico shooting 56.5 and 57.1 percent in the second half, respectively. On Tuesday, the defense stepped up. The Aggies shot 55.6 percent in the first half but were held scoreless in the final 2:49.
“We had been preposterously bad defensively the last 5 minutes of the game,” Rice said. “That was a steppingstone for us, hopefully.”
Not until senior guard Lonnie Jackson hit a 3-pointer with 1:31 to play did Boise State get its first lead at 68-67. A shot-clock violation by the Aggies preceded the big shot. They missed a free throw with 43 seconds left, trailing by two, and a Shane Rector layup with 5 seconds left as the Broncos clamped down on the perimeter after the Aggies hit 12 3-pointers in the game.
Jackson may have gotten away with a foul on the play — Rice said “not sure we got a stop, but the ball didn’t go in.”
In the Aggies’ previous visit Jan. 3, 2015, they won 62-61 on a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
“I was trying not to let that happen again,” junior forward James Webb III said. “We were fine with the 2, because that sends it into overtime. We just didn’t want to give up the 3 and have that feeling like we had last year.”
Webb scored a team-high 19 points, 17 coming in the second half after trailing 38-28 at the break. He also had nine rebounds, four on the offensive end. The Broncos dominated the glass with a 39-22 edge, including a 17-3 offensive differential and 18 second-chance points to the Aggies’ zero.
“The last two games, we hadn’t been playing like ourselves,” Webb said. “This game, we started out like that, but it was a turnaround. You could see it. You could feel it on the bench. Guys just wanted to win it more.”
The Aggies made five straight field goals, including four straight 3-pointers, to turn a 44-44 tie into a 58-47 lead with 10:16 to play. But the Broncos contested shots, allowing the Aggies to make just one of their last five from long distance. Utah State coach Tim Duryea called it the “toughest loss of the year.”
“When we’re playing defense, we can be one of the best teams in the league. When we don’t play defense, we’re not a good team,” senior guard/forward Anthony Drmic said. “It’s all defense; that’s where it stands right now.”
Boise State received 12 points and six rebounds from Drmic and 16 points and six rebounds from senior guard Mikey Thompson. They were 3-of-6 combined from 3-point range; the rest of the team was 2-of-17. In the last 6:12, Jackson’s make was the Broncos’ only 3-point attempt.
“We’re like addicts as far as with the 3-ball sometimes,” Rice said. “We’ve become a really good post team, a great get-to-the basket team. We’ve made free throws, and that’s what’s winning us games.”
As the Broncos prepare for back-to-back road games at Air Force and Colorado State, Webb said Tuesday’s win provides “good motivation” for what the team will need to continue to do.
“Get it done by any means,” Webb said.
BSU women take six-game winning streak to Logan
The Broncos (14-6, 7-2 MW) take on Utah State (10-10, 5-4) at 7 p.m. Wednesday (KTIK 1350 AM).
Three different players have scored at least 20 points in the past three games, while all five starters are averaging at least 7.7 points per game this season.
“This stretch, we’re really playing as a team. And with so many threats, we can win in a lot of different ways,” junior guard Brooke Pahukoa (16.4 ppg) said.
The Broncos are expected to play senior forward Lexie Der in her first game action since Feb. 26, 2014. Three serious knee injuries have kept her sidelined since her sophomore season, when she averaged 10.9 ppg.
“I’m just proud of her, overcoming a lot of pain, the fear of pain for the good of the program,” coach Gordy Presnell said. “We’re really excited to have her back.”