SACRAMENTO, Calif. – It was supposed to be different this time around.
Boise State, winless in eight games in the NCAA Tournament, had a favorable matchup, the closest destination and the veterans and experience needed to win in March.
The result was the same. Again.
The 10th-seeded Broncos never led and struggled in all facets in a disappointing 75-67 loss to No. 7 seed Northwestern in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday evening at the Golden 1 Center.
The loss drops Boise State to 0-9 all-time in the NCAA Tournament, the most appearances of any team without a win in the history of the tournament.
“It just sucks to end it this way,” Boise State senior Marcus Shaver Jr. said. “We wanted to keep the season going as long as we could, so it sucks to end it this way.
“We know no Boise State team had ever won a game in the tournament, we knew that coming into this and we really wanted to get this one for the program and leave a legacy.”
A year after losing three starters from a Mountain West championship team, the Broncos finished second in the Mountain West and won 24 games while earning just the program’s third at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament in program history.
The season will undoubtedly be considered a success – even if it was hard for some to think that in the immediate moments following Thursday’s loss.
“I don’t think anyone expected us to be here,” Max Rice said. “I still think it was an amazing season. Obviously we wanted to get our first win in the tournament, but they played great tonight. They played better than us tonight and made a bunch of big shots.
“But it doesn’t take away from what we’ve done this year. I’m still really proud of my team and everything we’ve done.”
Rice had 17 points to lead the Broncos, while Naje Smith had 14 points and 11 rebounds in the final game of his college career. Shaver Jr. and Chibuzo Agbo each had 12 points for the Broncos in the loss.
Boise State trailed 38-32 at the half. The Broncos pulled even at 40-40 on a 3-pointer from Rice early in the second half, but were unable to ever grab the lead.
The Broncos pulled within 60-56 on a Degenhart bucket with 5:52 to go, but they never got any closer.
Boo Buie led Northwestern with 22 points, while Chase Audige had 20 points. Ty Berry added 13 points for the Wildcats, who came in as one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the country but made 8 of 21 (38 percent).
Boise State returns three starters next season including Rice, Degenhart and Agbo and adds a pair of impressive high school signees in Chris Lockett and Andrew Meadow. The Broncos are likely to be active in the transfer portal as well.
It wasn’t the ending anyone wanted, but it was another step in the right direction for the Rice and the Broncos. The future appears bright – even if Thursday’s loss figures to sting for a while.
“We’re going to be pretty special,” coach Leon Rice said. “But that’s for tomorrow.”
Here’s interviews from several Boise State players including an exclusive interview from Leon Rice on our YouTube channel…