Not many saw this coming for Boise State. Three games left in the season, and just one game back of first place.
Heck, even Leon Rice wasn’t so sure after a season-opening loss to South Dakota State way back in early November. An 11-point first half in a loss to Charlotte two games later didn’t ease concerns, either.
But here are the Broncos, fresh off a thrilling 82-77 win over New Mexico, just one game back of first place San Diego State. Boise State improved to 22-6 overall and 12-3 in Mountain West play with the win as a second-straight league title remains in reach with 10 days left in the regular season.
“You think back to that South Dakota State game and if you had told me that night in the press conference that in February you’ll be right where you are now, I would have been like ‘I’ll take it,’” Rice said.
“It goes back to the character of this team and the work ethic and my staff. My staff has done an amazing job with this group.”
Max Rice had a career-high 30 points Wednesday to help the Broncos overcome a 13-point deficit in the first half. Rice made eight free throws in the final 1:41 to reach the 30-point club for the first time in his career.
After finishing with 29 points in a win over Nevada earlier this season, Rice wasn’t going to let himself come up short again. He stepped to the line with nine seconds left, knowing he needed to make both to reach 30 points.
He swished both and threw his hands in the air in celebration – both for his personal achievement and an impressive and needed win.
“That was nice to have that accomplishment under my belt along with a really good win for us,” Max Rice said. “We closed it out and got another good win. On to the next on Saturday (at San Jose State).
Tyson Degenhart had 13 points despite going 0 for 8 from 3-point range, while Chibuzo Agbo had 12.
Boise State was strong defensively, holding Jamal Mashburn Jr. (20 ppg) and Jaelen House (17 ppg) to a combined 6 of 29 from the field and a total of 21 points.
An announced crowd of 9,825 was as loud as any crowd inside ExtraMile Arena in recent memory. The crowd made noise throughout the game during New Mexico’s offensive possessions, and went crazy throughout the second half as Boise State overcame a 6-point halftime deficit.
“It was so loud in here,” Leon Rice said. “What a great atmosphere. … It felt like it was as loud as it’s ever been in here.”
The Broncos could use an even bigger and louder crowd when they host San Diego State on Senior Night on Feb. 28, but they’ll worry about that in a few days. Up first is a road trip to San Jose State (16-12, 7-8 MW) on Saturday.
As for his son’s career-high 30 points, Leon Rice said, “When he gets going, the ball goes in like that. And the beauty of Max is, he cares that the 30 points helped us win. That’s it. Whatever (it takes to win).
“That is what makes us a great team. We have a bunch of guys like that. They are not out to get theirs. They are out to help us win. And we needed every bit of those 30 tonight. Impressive job by him.”
The win gives Boise State nine Quad 2 wins and a strong 10-4 record in the first two quadrants. The quadrant system is used by the NCAA Tournament selection committee to pick the field and determine the seedings for the 68-team bracket.
Max Rice himself said he doesn’t think the Broncos should still be on the bubble given their impressive record and computer metrics, but acknowledged the win was important with some bracket projections still not overly favorable to them.
Boise State has another Quad 2 game at San Jose State on Saturday before a pair of Quad 1 games to finish the season – at home vs. San Diego State and at Utah State to finish out the regular season on March 4.
The Broncos are assured of at least a share of the Mountain West title with wins in the final three games, but could win the title outright should San Diego State drop another game – which could happen when they play at New Mexico on Tuesday.
“We worked all season to get in this position,” Agbo said. “It’s the final stretch and I think we’re more locked in than ever. We got a game on Saturday and we’re looking forward to it. We’re locked in.”
Max Rice was quick to already turn his attention to the remaining schedule. Wednesday’s win over New Mexico was nice, but he and the Broncos aren’t satisfied yet.
“Three more,” Rice said.
Saturday’s game at San Jose State is slated to start at 5 p.m. MT and will be streamed on the Mountain West Network.
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