The Boise State men’s basketball team defeated New Mexico 82-77 in what could be the start of a new rivalry in the Mountain West conference.
Boos filled ExtraMile Arena as the New Mexico Lobos men’s basketball team stepped on the court. It was clear to see that there was no love lost between the Broncos and the Lobos.
“People say what they want to say,” senior forward Chibuzo Agbo said. “I think we’re just focused on winning the game … we wanted to win that one bad, and we needed it. I don’t think there was really any extra juice to be honest. We just knew we had to get that one.”
The last meeting between the two teams was on Jan. 24, in which the Lobos defeated the Broncos 81-79 in an overtime showdown in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
However, it wasn’t just the overtime loss that had Bronco fans wanting vengeance, but the halftime dramatics that ensued during the game.
During the Jan. 24 game halftime, a group of New Mexico baseball players lined the hallway to the Broncos’ locker room and were causing commotion while the Bronco basketball team exited their designated locker room.
The first half of the game was primarily back and forth until the Lobos marched on to turn a 23-23 tie game into a commanding 23-35 lead.
The Broncos weren’t able to match the pace of the Lobos, and nothing was dropping on their end.
The Broncos went 12-34 (35%) from the field and allowed the Lobos to go 42% from the field in the first half.
Boise State’s defense was unable to match the quick offensive pace of the Lobos. The Broncos struggled getting to the backcourt quick enough, allowing Lobos players uncontested shots.
In the first half, Bronco head coach Leon Rice was quick to incorporate fifth-year senior center Lukas Milner early in the contest. After the impressive game Milner had against UNLV, the center earned his time on the court.
“We have a lot of guys that can contribute,” Agbo said. “Guys like Jace [Whiting] and Lukas that just come to practice every day … no matter if they played last game or not, they’re still going 100% hard … they’re ready to hoop and they’re ready to play and help us win.”
Despite trailing the Lobos by 13 points, the Broncos were able to close the gap entering halftime to make the score 31-37.
“We just knew the things we needed to fix,” Agbo said. “We needed to get the guys off the offensive boards and stop letting them out in transition … two things that were easy fixes … once we got those, we felt like we were in it.”
The fans in ExtraMile didn’t lose their competitive spirits entering the second half of the game.
The Corral was loud as ever as the Broncos opened up the second half.
Coming off the bench, Milner and freshman guard Jace Whiting paired up to make a powerful dynamic duo in the second half.
“Our bench was huge,” head coach Leon Rice said. “I thought (Whiting) and Lukas those guys saved our bacon, that was big. Jace made some big plays and so did Lukas … we don’t win this game without that help that they gave us and the whole team.”
The ball finally started falling in the Broncos’ favor as they went on a 6-0 scoring run to go up 56-52, forcing a Lobo timeout with just under 12 minutes remaining in the game.
“It felt like we’re just hooping,” Agbo said. “Having fun … the crowd was there tonight. They’re energetic, so that was a lot of fun … it was just a great atmosphere.”
Just as things were looking up for the Broncos, fifth-year senior guard Marcus Shaver Jr. went down hard after a blocked layup attempt. Lobo defender Josiah Allick landed on the injury-prone Shaver.
Max Rice knocked down back-to-back threes to increase the Bronco lead to 71-63 with under five minutes remaining in the game.
With both teams in the bonus and the Broncos loosening up their lead to 77-70, foul shots were a make or break.
Shaver missed four foul shots, while Max Rice was able to secure six at the line.
“It’s kind of lucky,” Max Rice said. “I’ve been making free throws when Shaver’s missing, and I’m missing when Shaver’s making. So it’s a good thing we got each other’s back there.”
With those free throws, Max Rice secured a career-high 30-point game.
“I knew I had 28. I was still a little worried about the game,” Max Rice said jokingly. “I knew if I made those [free throws], it was looking good … I just focused on making those and I got 30 … it’s nice to have that accomplishment under my belt … along with a really good win.”
The 30-point night for Max Rice is a huge step in the right direction and the hopes for a spot on the Mountain West All-Conference team seems more and more feasible.
“I think I’m more focused on the team right now,” Max Rice said. “I don’t really care about accolades like that. I care about winning and making the NCAA Tournament and just being out there with my guys … I’ve dreamed about times like these … during the game today, I was in the huddle like, this is fun … let’s enjoy this.”
As the end of the season is hanging in the balance, the Broncos’ development over the course of the season is noticeable.
“This team has a characteristic that I love,” Leon Rice said. “I’ll take what I have, and that is a great team that just finds ways to win. What an awesome characteristic to have as a group of guys … it all goes back to our guys resiliency and just that toughness to respond … that’s what it takes to win games against good teams.”
The Broncos and Lobos split the season matchup 1-1, and the thought of a new rivalry evolving in the Mountain West is exciting.
The Broncos will face San Jose State in San Jose, California, on Feb. 25 as they sit at 12-3 in conference play and 22-6 overall.