Any remaining margin for error just got even smaller for Leon Rice and the Boise State men’s basketball team.
The Broncos gave up a game-tying bucket with 1.3 seconds left and suffered a 90-84 home loss in overtime to Utah State on Saturday afternoon.
The loss itself is not a ‘bad’ one. But with road trips to New Mexico, Colorado State and Utah State coming up in within the next 14 days, a second home loss in three games wasn’t ideal for a Boise State team with hope of winning the Mountain West and getting back to the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four games.
O’Mar Stanley made the first free throw with 7.9 seconds left to put Boise State up 76-74, but he missed the second to give Utah State the chance. And Ian Martinez took advantage, going coast to coast and scoring with 1.3 seconds left to tie the game at 76.
Utah State then scored the first six points in overtime and Boise State went just 2 for 10 from the field in the final five minutes to fall into a three-way tie for second place in the league standings.
“That was tough,” Rice said. “But with the way O’Mar has been drilling those clutch free throws, there was nobody else you’d rather have at the line. It kind of went in and out, but I’ll tell you, give Martinez credit. He just took off and there was a second left by the time he laid it in. He could have panicked and pulled up for the 3, but that was a great play by that kid.
“It was that kind of game. One play here or there changes the whole game.”
Tyson Degenhart had 24 points for the Broncos, who led 46-39 on a 3-pointer from Stanley early in the second half and looked poised to run away with it.
But give Utah State credit. The Aggies, playing in a hostile road environment, answered every Boise State bucket with a big shot or two of their own to hang around long enough to make enough plays late.
Stanley had 20 points but fouled out less than a minute into overtime on a questionable call.
“There’s nothing you can do when a guy just falls down and they call a foul,” Rice said. “There’s no technique you can change. The guy fell down and they called a foul.”
The officiating crew of Mike Littlewood, Casey McClellan and Layne Barney was maybe the most inexperienced crew to work a Boise State game this year – and it showed. Both coaches were whistled for technical fouls and both teams had gripes about the officiating throughout the game.
A game of this magnitude, with first place on the line, likely deserved a better crew. But with 150-plus games on Saturday and the game not on TV, the better, more seasoned officials were spread out elsewhere around the country.
“This game deserved (a better crew),” Rice said. “But there’s a reality to it. There’s only so many.”
Chibuzo Agbo and Max Rice combined to go 8 of 29 from the field in the loss. Agbo had 15 points on 4 of 14 shooting while Rice continued his struggles with a 4 for 15 outing. For the season Rice is shooting just 28.6 percent in conference play – the lowest on the team.
Boise State allowed 12 second chance points to Utah State off eight offensive rebounds, and the Aggies turned 12 Bronco turnovers into 13 points.
Boise State led 59-54 with 7:55 to go before back to back turnovers led to easy Utah State buckets and a 59-58 score.
“Those were costly,” Leon Rice said. “No doubt.”
Boise State (14-6, 5-2 MW) sits in a three-way tie with San Diego State and New Mexico for second place in the Mountain West, a game behind Utah State (18-2, 6-1 MW). The Lobos host Nevada on Sunday night before hosting Boise State on Wednesday.
The Broncos play three Quad 1 road games in the next four and appear to be entering a critical stretch of their season. And Saturday’s home loss only makes the path harder.
“This is a league where you have to go try to find a way to steal one somewhere,” Rice said. “The’s our mindset. Who knows. Just keep sawing wood and keep fighting and show up the next day and have a great practice. … Four losses will probably win this league. And we only have two.
“Our guys did all they could and they battled. The thing I said to our team is we’ve been on a steady growth through the year but I don’t think we’re playing our best yet. I think we have a lot of room for growth and we have to grow for what’s ahead of us.”
Tip off Wednesday is set for 8:30 p.m. in Albuquerque and the game will air on FOX Sports 1. BNN will have the Lithia Ford of Boise Pregame Show live from The Pit at 7:30 p.m. on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.