FORT COLLINS, Colo. – Boise State coach Leon Rice had to weave his way up the stands, around a barricade and onto the second-level concourse at Moby Arena for his live interview on the Bronco Nation News Postgame Show Wednesday night.
It was a much happier trek given how the game went.
“I don’t mind it after that,” Rice joked. “No doubt about it.”
Boise State overcame a 10-point deficit in the first half, blew a 10-point lead in the second half but hung on for a dramatic 80-78 road win over Colorado State when a last-second 3-point heave from the Rams fell short.
With the win the Broncos improved to 20-6 overall and 10-3 in Mountain West play to remain one-game behind San Diego State for first place with five games to go. The Broncos also picked up a coveted Quad 2 win for their NCAA Tournament resume.
“Huge win,” Rice said. “When you have a great year, you find ways to win games like this. And that’s what the guys did at the end. And that’s pretty special because it’s hard to do. A road win in this conference is gold.”
Tyson Degenhart had 19 points to lead the Broncos but left the door open for Colorado State when he missed the second free throw with 6.5 seconds left and the Broncos leading, 80-78.
A scramble ensued and the Rams’ John Tonje, who was 3 of 5 from 3-point range already in the game, heaved one up from just behind the arc as the final seconds ticked off the clock. But Degenhart got back and made it difficult by putting his hand up, and the shot fell short.
Boise State’s players rushed the court in celebration of one of their better and most important wins of the season.
“It was a gutsy win,” Degenhart told Bronco Nation News. “They shot the ball really well and they played hard and we’re just happy to get the win.”
Naje Smith had 17 points, while Marcus Shaver Jr. and Chibuzo Agbo each had 15 points for the Broncos, who had a 34-25 edge on the glass.
Credit Jace Whiting for not allowing Colorado State’s best player, guard Isaiah Stevens, to get the ball on the final play. Stevens had 17 points and had just hit a 3-pointer with 9.0 seconds left to pull the Rams within one, but was unable to get the ball prior to Tonje’s shot.
“The one thing we wanted is we didn’t want Stevens to touch it,” Rice said. “We know the magic he has. If he touches it he’s somehow making it. Jace kept it out of his hands. That was the plan. That’s what we said, ‘Jace do not let Stevens touch it. Somebody else has to shoot it.’”
The only reason the game was close was Colorado State’s ridiculous outside shooting. The Rams, who entered just 3-9 in Mountain West play, started 7 of 10 from 3-point range and finished 13 of 22 (59.1 percent) from deep to stay in the game.
Four players had multiple 3s for the Rams – with a few of them bouncing off the rim multiple times before falling in.
“They played terrific,” Rice said. “They are so much better than their record. It’s remarkable how many close games (they’ve lost). They’ve had so many of those, it’s crazy.
“I credit our guys. We responded.”
Boise State got off to a rough start and trailed 19-10 with 10:35 left in the half. Smith scored six straight points to pull the Broncos with 19-16, but a quick 7-0 run from Colorado State pushed the lead to 26-16 and forced a frustrated Rice to call a time out with 7:04 remaining in the half.
Whatever he said worked.
Smith hit a 3-pointer and the Broncos were off and running on what ended up as a 20-5 run to finish the half with a 36-31 lead. Colorado State had just one field goal in the final 7:03 of the half as the Broncos locked down on defense and finally started hitting some shots.
“If we wouldn’t have responded, they could have blown us out,” Rice said. “And that’s what it was looking like there for a few minutes. Our guys, we bowed our necks and drew a line in the sand and we just kept coming.
“That first 10 minutes they got after us. We had to respond and we did. That’s the beauty of these guys. They respond.”
Boise State led 48-38 early in the second half before a 12-2 run from Colorado State evened the score at 50. The teams traded the lead down the stretch before Boise State took it back for good on a Degenhart 3-pointer which made it 69-67 with 4:37 to go.
“It really shows a lot at the end of games whether you have a good team or a great team,” Smith told Bronco Nation News. “There’s a big separation in how you finish games and I think we’ve definitely taken that step to finish games.”
Lukas Milner had five points and five rebounds and made a couple huge plays off the bench for the Broncos, while Whiting had an important bucket in the second half to go along with his defense on the final play.
The Broncos played 10 players in the first half.
“Our bench did a great job tonight,” Rice said. “Playing at altitude is real. It’s tough. It takes a lot out of you. I thought everybody that came in really helped us and did some good things.
“Lukas was huge with some big rebounds, that putback late and the great defensive play at the other end on their big guy.”
Boise State returns to ExtraMile Arena for a pair of key games, starting Sunday night at 7 p.m. against UNLV.
“Let’s have it packed because you have limited chances to see these guys,” Rice said. “We need a sellout on Sunday. We have 120 minutes left in ExtraMile. Let’s sellout these last three games because this is a special group and they are giving everything they have, and we need the help of the fans to get us through these.”