In a season filled with the highest highs and the lowest lows, the Boise State men’s basketball team turned a seemingly hopeless season into the university’s first outright Mountain West title.
After losing their star guard Derrick Alston Jr. last year, media members who cover the conference started to feel uncertain on how Boise State would perform this season.
This ultimately led to the team being projected to finish fourth in the Mountain West behind Colorado State, San Diego State and Nevada, according to the Mountain West men’s basketball preseason poll.
Boise State performed well in their first five games of the season but lost two close games to the University of California, Irvine (UC Irvine) and St. Bonaventure.
Fans started to worry after California State University of Bakersfield (CSU Bakersfield) defeated Boise State at home 39-46.
“In my 12 years, that was the worst offensive display I’ve seen,” head coach Leon Rice said after the game against CSU Bakersfield. “We’ve got a chance to be really good because our defense is so good, but you can’t win any games if you can’t put the ball in the hoop. I mean, that’s unreal.”
To make matters worse, Boise State then lost to Saint Louis, making the team sit dead last in the Mountain West with a record of 3-4.
Boise State had lost four of their first seven games in a conference where a team can only afford to lose around eight games to still have a chance at a title. It seemed unlikely that the Broncos could bounce back and win the Mountain West title.
“I scheduled this year like this on purpose — to build us for the end,” Rice said after the Saint Louis game. “I wouldn’t do it with a young team, because it’s tough. And it’s night after night after night. But it’s forcing us to face issues. It’s forcing us to get better. And we’re going to. I’ve got resilient guys that care about each other and they’re gonna battle.”
As the team did not have the start that they had planned, tensions started to rise in the locker room.
For their game against Saint Louis, Rice decided to start freshman forward Tyson Degenhart over senior guard Devonaire Doutrive. Doutrive only played 13 minutes against Saint Louis and started to become disinterested on the sideline during the second half, according to B.J. Rains from Bronco Nation News.
Doutrive later indicated that he was in New York a day before the team’s game against Tulsa. This caused many to wonder about where he stood with the team.
A Boise State spokesperson then confirmed that Doutrive was no longer a part of the team before the team faced Tulsa.
Boise State has still not given a clear explanation as to what transpired between Doutrive and the team, but Rice had brought up the team’s culture and desire to win every time he was asked about Doutrive.
On top of the Doutrive situation, many news sources started to tear the team apart by calling out all of their biggest flaws.
According to Rice, his team was labeled as the “worst free throw shooting team” in the country.
It wasn’t just fans and media outlets picking apart the team’s free throw shooting. Other teams were as well.
Rice even believed that Prairie View A&M had sent them to the free throw line a nation-high 52 times in order to try to exploit the team’s biggest weakness.
Despite all of the narratives, the team stayed together and focused on playing one game at a time.
Following their loss to Saint Louis, Rice wrote every opponent the team had on a whiteboard in the locker room. After the team had seen their future opponents, Rice erased all but their next opponent.
Rice repeated this process after every game, erasing the prior opponent and writing their next opponent on the board. He wanted his team to only focus on the game in front of them, rather than stress about their current record.
“We put it on the board when we were 3-4 and we said: ‘We can win every game. Let’s do it,’” Rice said. “We can’t win them all at one time, but one at a time we can win. They were dialed in to that and they were all nodding their heads.”
With the fate of the season on the line, players started to step up and lead the team, including freshman forward Tyson Degenhart who had played well up to this point in the season and had earned his first start against Saint Louis.
“It was definitely a surreal moment. It’s been a dream of mine to start in a Division I game, and it happened tonight and that was cool,” Degenhart said after his first start. “But overall, I wanted the win but we didn’t get it.”
Seniors Abu Kigab and Marcus Shaver Jr. also started to maintain a high level of play.
“I really look up to Abu and the way I saw him work this summer,” Degenhart said in an interview on the Hold The Mic podcast. “He was in the gym all of the time and was just busting his butt off to get ready for the season. He really puts his heart and soul into the game and you can see how much he loves the game and that is something I want to take from him.”
These leaders helped their team deliver a solid 63-58 win over Tulsa. The Broncos were slowly improving on their flaws.
“Definitely needed a win. I’m proud of our guys,” said fifth-year forward Abu Kigab after the game against Tulsa. “We had a lot of adversity throughout the game, and they just kept fighting, man. It just shows the resolve of this team.”
Despite Boise State holding a six-game win streak at this point in the season, the Broncos were more focused on the next task at hand.
“Everyone wants to talk about the streak and we don’t give a…” Rice said after the game against UNLV. “We are staying in the present. We don’t care about [the streak].”
The fans and media, however, wanted to see how the team would fare heading into conference play.
“The Mountain West is unbelievable. We’ve got very strong teams throughout,” Kigab said. “We don’t disappoint. We come out and play hard every single night, and I think that’s a characteristic every team has when you really look down the line.”
Boise State’s built-up momentum helped them roll past Fresno State, Nevada, New Mexico and Air Force.
The team then powered through tough games for vital conference wins against Utah State, San Diego State, Wyoming and Fresno State, bringing their streak to its peak of 14 games. In each of these games, the Broncos trailed within two minutes left.
“[Assistant coach Tim] Duryea used to coach at Utah State so we got him with some water after the Utah State game,” Degenhart said. “After the San Diego State game, we were just going nuts in the locker room.”
The team’s most notable win was against Fresno State in their second matchup of the season.
“After the Fresno State game, we had some water bottles and we just started going crazy,” Degenhart said. “We were throwing them and getting water over everyone. It was definitely one of the most memorable locker room settings that I have ever been in in my life.”
According to ESPN, Boise State had a 3% chance of winning after trailing 50-53 with three seconds left in the game.
Despite these odds, redshirt senior guard Marcus Shaver Jr. landed a clutch 3-point buzzer-beater, forcing the game into overtime where Boise State would ultimately win 68-63.
“It is those shots that Shaver [Jr.] hit,” Degenhart said when asked about his most memorable moments in the streak. “Just being there and the emotion of the moment is just something I will never forget.”
After winning 14 consecutive games, Boise State eventually lost their streak in their second matchup against Wyoming.
Even though they had lost their streak, they managed to fix their biggest issue — their free throw shooting.
Before the streak, the team shot 42.9% (6-14) against Temple, 47.6% (10-21) against Ole Miss and 46.2% (12-26) against Saint Louis. Boise State then shot 81.8% (9-11) against San Diego State, 72.2% (13-18) against Wyoming and 80% (8-10) against Fresno State during the streak.
The final stretch
Boise State went 7-2 since losing their streak and finished the season off with 15-3 in their conference and 24-7 overall.
After beating Nevada in their second to last game of the season, Boise State was awarded their first outright Mountain West title.
This is the third time they have been awarded a conference title after previously winning the Big Sky conference title in 1988 and splitting the honors with San Diego State in the Mountain West conference in 2015.
“To win it outright, when you look at the conference schedule, we probably had the toughest schedule,” Rice said. “So to do what we did and be up two games on everybody with the schedule we played, we played every top team two times. It was remarkable what these guys did.”
The Broncos went from being labeled the “worst free throw shooting team in the country” to becoming the outright Mountain West champions in one season.
“It’s just unreal,” Shaver Jr. said. “It feels good to get this championship after the season we had last year. It’s just a great feeling. This team deserves it.”
The team was also one win away from tying the school record for most wins in a regular season with 25.
Now that the team has finished off the regular season, they still have much more to accomplish in the Mountain West and NCAA tournaments.
The team will be the first seed in the Mountain West conference and have a first-round bye. They will then face off against the winner of the Nevada vs. New Mexico game in the second round of the tournament.
The Broncos are expected to be selected for the NCAA tournament, but will not know for sure until Selection Sunday on Mar. 13.
Boise State is projected to be a seventh or eighth seed in the NCAA tournament and could be playing sometime between March 15 and March 19 for the first round.
Regardless of how far the Broncos go in both tournaments, the 2021-22 season will be remembered as one of the greatest seasons in Boise State history.