The team that couldn’t finish beat the team that does it better than anyone.
Boise State’s wild weeks of February ended on a high note Saturday at Viejas Arena. The Broncos’ 66-63 win in front of a full house of 12,414 was perhaps the most unbelievable.
Minus their top scorer and rebounder, facing the Mountain West’s new regular season champions on the road and trailing by nine with 63 seconds remaining, Boise State found a way. Somehow.
San Diego State, which led 58-54 with 5 minutes remaining, saw a sudden end to its mind-boggling 164-game winning streak when owning a lead with 5 minutes to play.
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“It’s a logical explanation in the fact that college basketball is crazy — how do you explain that?” Boise State coach Leon Rice said. “We’ve had a crazy month. ... For these guys to get it done, I’m very proud of them.”
Ten days after the Broncos (19-10, 10-6) missed eight of their final 10 free-throw attempts and blew a 15-point lead with 6 minutes left in an 80-78 loss at New Mexico, the shoe was on the other foot.
The Aztecs (21-8, 14-2) missed their final seven free throws in the final 1:40, and the Broncos made them pay. Junior forward Nick Duncan had two 3-pointers in the last 48 seconds, including the go-ahead dagger with 22.2 seconds to play for a 64-63 edge that followed a pair of Trey Kell misses. Boise State forced a turnover the ensuing possession in the final seconds.
“They missed a lot of free throws, which is what we’d been doing a lot lately, a little karma (due) there with us missing (them),” Duncan said. “We just came down and knocked down shots, just wanted to do it for each other.”
It was exactly that sort of team effort that would be necessary to get the team’s second straight win on the Aztecs’ floor.
Junior forward James Webb III, who leads the Broncos with 16 points and 9.4 rebounds per game, did not play for the first time in 57 games because of a sprained MCL in his right knee. Rice said he “looked like a shaky horse” before the game and opted to rest him, adding his status for Wednesday’s home finale against Nevada is still uncertain.
In his place, Duncan helped rise to the occasion with 12 points and a game-high 10 rebounds, leading Boise State to a 31-29 rebounding edge. The Broncos are 14-1 this season when outrebounding their opponents.
Off the bench, sophomore guard Chandler Hutchison had the best game of his young career with 16 points in 20 minutes on 8-of-11 shooting. Freshman guard Paris Austin added 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting, and freshman forward Zach Haney had six points and five rebounds in 15 minutes.
“It shows a lot about this team, that everyone can do a job if they have to, and it was needed,” Hutchison said. “... We wanted to use it as a motivation, not that we don’t need James, because we do, but so we could prove to ourselves when a guy goes down we can pick it up.”
Boise State finished both halves strong, taking a 30-28 lead into the break after forcing the Aztecs to shoot 1-for-7 and turn it over seven times in the last 7:47 of the first half. San Diego State built its 63-54 lead by making six straight field goals and making 3-of-4 free throws in consecutive appearances at the line, but Boise State made its last six free throws, all in the final 1:03, including senior guard/forward Anthony Drmic’s two with 1.5 seconds remaining to seal the win.
“They stayed with it, kept playing, and found a way to win the game,” San Diego State coach Steve Fisher said. “They’ve been on the other side of games like this; we all know that. Today, they were rewarded for their resolve and found a way to get one nobody thought they would get, except for the group that wore the Boise State shirts.”
Though Aztec football coach Rocky Long famously said the blue turf in Boise has lost its “mystique,” the Broncos have done the same with the Aztecs’ basketball court. San Diego State has won 30 of its past 32 Mountain West games at home. Both losses were to Boise State. According to the school, the loudest the arena got was 147.4 decibels Saturday, slightly louder than a jet engine at takeoff.
“(We) felt like we were kind of dead and buried, but the best thing about our guys. They just keep fighting, and when you keep fighting, sometimes the ball does bounce your way at the end,” Rice said. “... I told our guys there’s nothing better than playing in this environment. We kind of embrace it; we enjoy it.”
With a week left in the regular season, the Broncos hope to continue to build on the huge win going into the Mountain West Tournament
“This wasn’t our biggest goal,” Hutchison said. “We have to try and move on, not settle, take care of business and go accomplish what we’ve wanted all along.”