BOISE – Max Rice could do no wrong Tuesday night at ExtraMile Arena.
And neither could the Broncos.
Rice poured in a career-high 29 points, including 21 in the first half, to lead Boise State to an impressive 77-62 win over visiting Nevada.
More importantly? The Broncos (15-4, 5-1 MW) moved into sole possession of first place in the Mountain West with a fifth consecutive win.
“We’re back where we want to be,” forward Tyson Degenhart said. “We didn’t start conference the way we wanted to against Nevada, but we climbed our way back and now we’re tied for first. We can’t complain about where we’re at. We just have to keep improving day by day so we can hold up that trophy at the end of the season.”
More days like this from Rice and the Broncos probably will be hoisting the trophy come March for a second straight season.
Rice made 10 of 14 shots from the field and added five rebounds in 36 minutes.
Things were going so well for Rice that even when his shot got blocked early in the second half, teammate Tyson Degenhart grabbed the ball and gave it right back to him. He drilled the 3 this time to extend the Boise State lead.
“That’s kind of how the night felt for me,” Rice said. “The ball was just going in. Every time I was shooting it – it was going in. It was really fun. Nevada is a great team and we’re happy to come out with the win.”
But the Broncos probably wouldn’t have won had it not been for Rice, who went 6 for 7 from 3-point range and set several career highs including points and made 3-pointers.
And these weren’t just traditional 3-pointers. He poured in several from well beyond the arc, and at one point hit one so deep near the Nevada bench that Wolf Pack coach Steve Alford could do nothing but throw his hands up in amazement.
“That was pretty amazing,” said proud dad and Boise State head coach Leon Rice. “I’ve seen guys score a lot of points in a half but when they are that efficient, that makes all the difference in the world.”
Rice had 21 points in the first half on 7 of 9 shooting from the field, including 5 of 6 from beyond the 3-point arc. He surpassed his career high of four made 3s in the first 15 minutes of the game.
“That ranks up there as one of the best halves we’ve ever had in this gym since I’ve been here,” Leon Rice said. “And that’s saying something because we’ve had Chandler (Hutchison) and you just go down the list. We’ve had some impressive ones and that was right there with it. That was pretty cool.”
Rice got to 29 points with 8:36 to play but was unable to get to the coveted 30 points. He had the ball in the final seconds, but obeyed his dad’s wishes by not shooting and holding onto the ball as the clock ran out.
Nevada guarded Rice much tougher in the second half, which opened things up for others. Degenhart finished with 15 points after scoring just three in the first half.
Naje Smith added 12 points and Chibuzo Agbo had 10 for the Broncos, who head to New Mexico on Friday night to face the 17-2 Lobos in a huge game for both teams.
Rice took just five shots in the second half and had eight points in the final 20 minutes, finishing one shy of his 30-point goal.
“I wanted to eclipse 30 at least once in my career so I thought that was a good chance,” Max Rice said. “But it’s fine. We got the win so it’s not really that big of a deal but in the moment it would have been cool.”
Summed up the fifth-year senior on his career night: “Once you hit a couple the basket looks a lot bigger. I credit my teammates for finding me. … It was going in so I just kept shooting it.”
Rice had just two points in a 74-72 loss to Nevada back on Dec. 28. He used that poor performance as motivation heading into the rematch.
“I had to prove myself and show them I can hoop too,” Max Rice said. “Tonight I came in with a different mindset and it really paid off for me. I’m going to keep trying to do that in the future.”
The win was Boise State’s fourth straight by double digits, and it shot them up to No. 23 at KenPom – the highest rating in program history from the famed analytical site. The Broncos are also now No. 21 at BartTorvik and No. 20 in the NET.
The Broncos could use another big game from Rice on Friday when they head to The Pit in Albuquerque. The Lobos have two of the best guards in the league in Jamal Mashburn and Jaelen House.
“We’re rolling right now,” Max Rice said. “But we’re already looking to Friday for a huge game.”