MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. – The Boise State men’s basketball team didn’t win the Myrtle Beach Invitational, but a 2-1 record seemed like quite the successful trip late Sunday night given how it started.
After scoring 11 points in the first half and falling to Charlotte in disappointing fashion in the opener, the Broncos rallied with impressive wins over Loyola Chicago on Friday and Colorado on Sunday to head home with some momentum.
Marcus Shaver Jr. had 20 points Sunday and Tyson Degenhart added 14 as the Broncos led pretty much from start to finish against Colorado, which entered the game ranked No. 46 in the KenPom rankings.
“Great response by our guys,” coach Leon Rice told Bronco Nation News. “We were obviously disappointed with our first game, but one of the important things we do at Boise State is adversity makes us better. We don’t pout, we don’t feel sorry for each other – we go fix things.
“That’s the group of guys I have. When we face adversity, good, let’s go fix it and we’re going to keep getting better.”
Naje Smith had 10 points, all in the first half, and Chibuzo Agbo added seven for the Broncos, who led 41-33 at half and pushed it to as many as 15 points in the second half.
Shaver went 3 for 3 from 3-point range in the first half to help the Broncos get off to a good start. They never looked back, leading for 37:42 of the 40 minutes.
“I could tell from the vibe from when we got on the bus, at shoot around, everybody was hungry,” Shaver Jr. said. “We were playing a good team and we knew it would be a good win for us. (The trip) was successful. We did a great job of bouncing back and winning the last two. I’m proud of everybody.”
Boise State (3-2) came to Myrtle Beach wanting to play at least two quality opponents and to get two wins. Mission accomplished, even if it didn’t come the way most expected.
All four favorites lost in the opening round, meaning the Broncos still had the chance to make the trip a success – even if they couldn’t take home the championship.
But after the loss to Charlotte the Broncos were looking at two games in which they’d be underdogs in both – and an 0-3 trip wasn’t crazy to imagine.
Two games and two wins later, the feeling was much different as the Broncos departed early morning for the long trip home.
“I was super pleased with the progress we’ve made,” Rice said. “So many guys played, so many guys did some good things, and there’s a ton of things we can get better at, but that’s what playing good competition does. It forces your hand and you have to get better.
“Really impressed with my guys. It’s hard to go 2-1 in these tournaments. Now you take those good minutes and you keep expanding them and you take those bad minutes and you shrink them.”
Colorado entered as one of the top rebounding teams in the country, particularly on the offensive end. But the Broncos won the battle on the boards 40-39, including 18-12 in the first half.
“We had to fight them on the glass and we knew that was going to be a challenge,” Rice said.
Boise State’s defense, which is up to No. 20 nationally in defensive efficiency at KenPom, was solid for a second straight game. The Rams shot just 35.8 percent from the field and scored just 55 Points, a game after they scored 103 points against No. 24 Texas A&M.
“We held them to half of that basically,” Rice said.
The Broncos committed just 11 turnovers, but also had only eight assists on 24 field goals.
Boise State, which beat Washington State earlier in the year, now has two wins against Pac-12 teams in the same season for the first time in program history.
“And this one could end being a really nice feather in our cap,” Rice said.
After losing three starters and major contributors from last year’s Mountain West Championship team in Abu Kigab, Emmanuel Akot and Malden Armus, the new-look Broncos are slowly starting to hit their stride.
“It’s kind of unrealistic to think these guys are all going to pick up where those guys left off,” Rice said. “But their learning curve has been fast when you think about it. We’ve played some quality teams.”
Boise State and Texas Southern are the only two teams in the country to play at least five games and have all be against teams ranked in the top 145 at KenPom. The Broncos finished that stretch 3-2 – and got better in the process.
“No doubt,” Rice said. “We’ve had some moments in the preseason that were pretty tough and some moments where it was like ‘oh my gosh, we’ve got some work to do,’ and we worked through that. Guys starting clicking, Buzo started being Buzo and guys just relaxed.
“This team has shown the ability to take what we’re giving them and keep getting better.”
Boise State is back in action Saturday against Utah Valley, which checks in at No. 150 at KenPom. Tickers are available at BroncoSports.com.