The Boise State men’s basketball team knocked off No. 18 San Diego State 66-60 on Feb. 28 in one of the Broncos’ biggest games of the season.
“I don’t remember a better win in here (ExtraMile Arena),” head coach Leon Rice said. “We just beat a heck of a team. That team can beat anyone and they have … and they’re playing great.”
In a true story of redemption, the Broncos made another case as to why Boise State is a basketball school.
After the devastating 52-72 loss to the Aztecs at the beginning of February, the Broncos searched for redemption.
“If you could draw up a perfect situation, that was this game,” sophomore forward Tyson Degenhart said.
The game was a battle to the end, with both sides fighting vigorously for control.
In the first half, the Aztecs maintained control throughout. Despite both teams shooting 40% from the field, the Aztecs had a defensive power that dominated the floor.
With aggressive rebounds, numerous steals and clutch shot-making, the Aztecs forged a 30-27 lead over the Broncos entering half time.
“Our issues are our issues, until we fix them,” Leon Rice said. “We don’t have a chance against San Diego State if you can rebound with them.”
The Broncos’ starting lineup looked different beginning the half compared to the start of the game.
Many encouraged Milner’s starting spot after proving to be a crucial player for the Broncos throughout the last few games.
“He’s been doing good,” Leon Rice said. “It gave us some power on the bench too with Buzo … [Milner] earned that opportunity and the guys supported.”
The Broncos came out in the second half with more physicality than the first half.
“It felt like we all finally came together and said no more,” fifth-year forward Naje Smith said. “We all took it very personally that they weren’t going to score in the end. It was a credit to all of our guys. Their toughness showed through that they were battling and battling.”
However, taking down a ranked opponent is never easy, and it certainly isn’t any easier when that opponent has very few weaknesses.
The Aztecs are composed of well-rounded and well-developed veterans who not only defend astronomically well, but can also make tough shots when it matters most.
Despite the efforts on the Broncos’ behalf, the Aztecs held a nine-point advantage with just over six minutes remaining in the contest.
The Aztecs seemed to have an answer to every big shot the Broncos made late in the game.
“They’re ballers, no doubt, they’re a good team,” Leon Rice said. “Our guys just responded with mental toughness … It takes a lot not to get discouraged on those … when a team answers and quiets the crowd.”
Despite trailing 52-60 with under five minutes remaining, the Broncos were able to take the reins and didn’t look back.
The Broncos established a 14-0 scoring run to close out the 66-60 win over the 18th ranked team in the country.
The Broncos seem to be in reach of a berth in the NCAA tournament after securing a win over a ranked opponent.
“A huge win,” senior guard Max Rice said. “That, in my opinion, secures us in the NCAA tournament. And if it doesn’t, then there’s a lot of things wrong with that tournament.”
With this win, the Broncos are now 23-7 overall and 13-4 in the Mountain West, retaining sole possession of second place in the conference standings.
Home court advantage has been a theme for the Broncos this season, as they have won 14 straight home games.
There was not one moment of silence in ExtraMile arena thanks to the sold out crowd.
“I think the crowd was amazing tonight,” Max Rice said. “We really fed off that.”
The fans also stormed the court and celebrated with the players and fellow fans.
‘’It was just great to see all the fans and all the students,” Degenhart said. “Just how happy we all were … those opportunities don’t always come around every day and so we took advantage of it and it was a lot of fun. A lot of pictures taken, a lot of happy fans, a happy team.”
As the Broncos celebrated the victory, they also bid farewell to their graduating seniors.
Four Broncos were commemorated prior to tip-off: Lukas Milner, Marcus Shaver Jr., Max Rice and Naje Smith.
“I didn’t want to get emotional when those guys were coming out,” Leon Rice said. “You have that moment where you’re like, ‘Oh, no more Naje. Are you kidding me?’ But there’s a lot ahead of us … they’re better than the sum of their parts. They’re good talent. They’re a great team. That’s the best way to put it.”
Despite having one year of eligibility remaining, Max Rice was honored in the celebration because “you never know,” Max Rice said.
The Broncos will wrap up conference play in Logan, Utah, against Utah State on March 4.