Entering Saturday, San Diego State had won 164 straight games in which it held a lead with five minutes remaining. While there have been some close calls, including a controversial finish against New Mexico earlier this season, Steve Fisher’s Aztecs made a habit of closing out such games over the last six seasons.
That streak came to an end at Viejas Arena, as Boise State closed the game on a 12-0 run over the final 1:04 to beat San Diego State 66-63. The Broncos, who took the lead for good on a Nick Duncan three with 22.2 seconds remaining, played without their best player as James Webb III sat out due to injury.
So how did Boise State managed to erase a nine-point deficit without reply? The answer is simple: San Diego State picked the worst possible time to start missing free throws. San Diego State missed seven straight foul shots, opening the door for Boise State to come back and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
San Diego State, which wrapped up the Mountain West regular season title last Sunday at San José State, is no lock to make its seventh straight NCAA tournament appearance and this loss is a damaging one. Outside of a win over California in Las Vegas, SDSU doesn’t have much on its non-conference résumé with the loss to San Diego being the most damaging blow (Little Rock and Grand Canyon, who both won at SDSU, are RPI Top 100 teams). And with the rest of the conference struggling this season, the quality win opportunities that would come in past seasons against Mountain West foes haven’t been present.
Saturday’s loss doesn’t help San Diego State from a résumé standpoint, placing even more pressure on them for the upcoming Mountain West tournament. Given the issues with their non-conference schedule and the strength of the conference, getting an at-large bid was going to be tough for San Diego State. Saturday’s loss simply puts even more pressure on the Aztecs to win the conference tournament, thus leaving no doubt as to whether or not they’ll make a seventh straight NCAA tournament.
Boise State hangs on for quality win over No. 24 Oregon
With three of their four losses on the season coming against No. 13 Arizona (twice) and No. 1 Michigan State, Saturday night’s matchup with No. 24 Oregon provided Boise State with another opportunity to add a quality win to its résumé. And in spite of a shaky final two minutes in which they nearly lost the game, Leon Rice’s Broncos managed to hang on for the 74-72 victory.
And Boise State managed to win despite getting a relatively quiet night from forward James Webb III, who battled foul trouble for a significant portion of the game and finished with 12 points on 3-for-9 shooting to go along with five rebounds.
Senior guard Anthony Drmic, who still isn’t back to full strength after having to take a medical redshirt last season, scored a team-high 19 points with Mikey Thompson adding 11 and Chandler Hutchison (eight points, seven rebounds) making some key plays on both ends of the floor. Boise State didn’t have its best offensive night, shooting just 42.6 percent from the field and 11-for-29 form three. But they took a step forward defensively, which is key for a team with hopes of contending for a second consecutive Mountain West title.
Oregon finished the game shooting 43.1 percent from the field and they made half of their shot attempts in the second half. But it was Boise State’s defense for much of the game’s first thirty-four minutes that produced the hole that proved too deep for the Ducks to climb out of. Oregon shot 35.7 percent from the field in the first half, and while their turnover count of 11 isn’t a huge issue those mistakes resulted in 20 Boise State points on the other end.
When you’re having issues offensively as Boise State was, having those extra opportunities can be critical. Boise State led by as much as 17 in the second half before the shorthanded Ducks made their furious rally.
Did Boise State beat a full-strength Oregon? No. Jordan Bell’s finally returned to the lineup, and guards Tyler Dorsey and Dylan Ennis missed Saturday’s game. But that isn’t Boise State’s fault, and the Broncos themselves are still working to discover who they can be as a full unit. Boise State is still looking for the option who can fill the shoes left vacant by the loss of Derrick Marks, last year’s Mountain West POY who served as the team’s closer late in games.
That likely factored into their struggles down the stretch against Oregon, but with Drmic, Webb and even Thompson the Broncos do have players who could potentially fill that role. The finish wasn’t pretty by any stretch of the imagination, but Boise State managed to hang on, adding a much-needed quality win to its résumé.
Expected to be one of the favorites in the Mountain West this season, Boise State’s perimeter ranks have shrunk by one player due to injury. Thursday it was reported by the Idaho Statesman that freshman guard Malek Harwell will redshirt after suffering a torn ACL in practice. Along with fellow freshman Paris Austin, Harwell is expected to be a key part of the Broncos’ future beyond the upcoming season.
Now, instead of competing with an experienced backcourt that includes four redshirt seniors, Harwell will work to get his knee back to full strength for the 2016-17 season.
Among the guards who will play significant minutes this season are Anthony Drmic, who took a medical redshirt last season, Montigo Alford, Mikey Thompson and grad transfer Lonnie Jackson (Boston College). Chandler Hutchison, who started in Boise State’s final 18 games of the 2014-15 season as a freshman, will also compete for playing time.
With four scholarship seniors in their perimeter rotation for the 2015-16 season, defending Mountain West regular season champion Boise State is in a position where they can use some additional depth for the future. Saturday head coach Leon Rice and his staff landed their second commitment in three days, with Colorado native Justinian Jessup announcing that he’s verbally committed to Boise State.
One of the other options Jessup had in his recruitment was to walk on (or join them after a prep year in 2016-17) at Colorado, with the Buffaloes at the time (May) having two perimeter commitments in guards Deleon Brown and Cameron Satterwhite. That situation changed some for Colorado this weekend, as Satterwhite decided to reopen his recruitment, and a possible backup plan for the Buffaloes is now off the table with Jessup committing to Boise State.
Boise State will lose Mikey Thompson, Montigo Alford, Lonnie Jackson and Anthony Drmic at the end of the 2015-15 season, and with the dismissal of Dezmyn Trent the Broncos have a need for additional perimeter options. Having Paris Austin and Malek Harwell, two guards they can build around in the future, on board learning from that experienced group of seniors will help the Broncos but so will their most recent additions.
Below are some highlights from Jessup’s junior season courtesy of Hudl.com.
Thursday afternoon the Boise State basketball program announced that guard Dezmyn Trent had been dismissed from the team due to an “incident in his hometown of Tacoma, Washington.” And according to a report from the Idaho Statesman, the incident in question is a very serious one.
A Lakewood spokesman told the Idaho Statesman that Trent was among four men arrested after shootings at approximately 6 p.m. and 10:45 p.m. Wednesday at an apartment complex. Nearly 30 shots were fired in the alleged incidents, which police believed to be gang-related. No one was injured and no charges have been filed.
The 6-foot-4 Trent didn’t see much playing time last season for the Broncos, who won a share of the Mountain West regular season title and reached the NCAA tournament for the second time in the last three years. Trent played in 11 games in 2014-15, with just one of those appearances (a 50-point win over San Jose State January 21) coming after January 15.
And despite the loss of Mountain West Player of the Year Derrick Marks, finding more playing time appeared to be tough for Trent heading into the 2015-16 season. Anthony Drmic, who missed most of last season due to injury, Mikey Thompson and Montigo Alford are among the returnees, with Boise State also adding grad student Lonnie Jackson (from Boston College) and freshmen Paris Austin and Malek Harwell to the mix on the perimeter.
Trent was suspended for the team’s first three games of the 2014-15 season due to a violation of team rules.
Now healthy, surging Boise State a Mountain West title contender
Despite losing all-conference forward Ryan Watkins at the end of last season, Boise State was picked to finish second in the Mountain West’s preseason media poll, with seniors Anthony Drmic and Derrick Marks expected to lead the way. But rarely is a season straightforward, and in the case of Boise State they had to deal with significant health issues in non-conference play.
Drmic struggled with back and ankle injuries, with the latter ultimately requiring season-ending surgery, and players such as Marks, Nick Duncan and James Webb III also struggled with health issues. Boise State’s 48-45 loss to Loyola-Chicago in the Las Vegas Classic final was the first of four straight defeats, with the last three being conference games.
To their credit the Broncos refused to use the injuries as a crutch, and as they’ve returned to full strength Leon Rice’s team has been among the hottest in the country over the last month. Boise State has won eight straight games since falling at Wyoming January 10, and while there are a variety of reasons why the Broncos are now a contender to win the Mountain West the simplest one is that outside of Drmic everyone is back to full strength.
“Injuries,” Rice told NBCSports.com Friday when asked what the issues were during the aforementioned losing streak. “[Nick] Duncan was out with an ankle injury and probably shouldn’t have played a couple games, Derrick missed the Loyola game and probably shouldn’t have played at Colorado State.
“Also it was the schedule. We played at Colorado State when they were undefeated, and we played at Wyoming when they were ranked. Those are some pretty tough places to play.”
That begins with Marks, who spent much of his offseason rehabbing from a torn meniscus suffered in May and then injured his ankle in a win over Houston that forced him to miss the aforementioned loss to Loyola. After missing that game and playing at Colorado State when he wasn’t at full strength, Marks continued on the path that has made him a much-improved player even with the solid numbers he put up as a junior.
Last season Marks averaged 14.9 points per game, but he did so shooting 44.1% from the field and just under 29 percent from beyond the arc. As a senior, without the versatile Drmic to draw attention, Marks is up to 19.5 points per game while shooting better than 50 percent from both the field and from three. After ranking tenth in the Mountain West in offensive rating per kenpom.com (amongst players involved 24% of possessions), Marks is currently tops in the conference in that particular category.
“He just put in a lot of time, effort and energy into becoming a better player,” Rice said of Marks. “When he got hurt [during the summer] he studied the game in a different way, and he spent a lot of time shooting. Even when he couldn’t move, he took shots while sitting in a chair.”
The hard work has paid off for him individually, and it’s also led to Boise State entering Saturday’s game at Fresno State with an 18-6 record (8-3 Mountain West; a half-game behind San Diego State). The numbers are just one part of the equation for Marks, who’s also improved as a leader for Rice’s Broncos.
“I just wanted to focus on being the best leader I could be,” Marks told NBCSports.com. “Because after last year we lost our leader in Jeff [Elorriaga], and that was one area in which I knew I had to do if we were to win. It hasn’t been easy, but my coaches and teammates have helped me be a better leader.”
With Drmic going down others needed to step up as well, and that’s been the case during Boise State’s eight-game win streak. In conference play the Broncos are ranked third in field goal percentage, second in three-point percentage and first in free throw percentage, and as a result Boise State has the most efficient offense in the conference per Ken Pomeroy’s numbers. With multiple players stepping forward, and Boise State’s penchant for taking care of the basketball, the Broncos have been a tough team to slow down over the last month.
One of the players who has stepped up is sophomore forward James Webb III, who began a run of eight double-figure outings in nine games (the lone exception was Boise State’s 86-36 win over San Jose State) in a 65-54 loss at Wyoming. However according to Rice, the true breakthrough for Webb occurred in Boise State’s close loss at NC State in late-Novmeber. After playing a total of 13 minutes in the five games prior (missing two), Webb accounted for 12 points and four rebounds in 14 minutes of action.
“The game that got him going was the NC State game, and from there he hasn’t looked back,” Rice noted.
The 6-foot-9 Webb (11.2 ppg, 7.4 rpg) has been a key figure for a team looking to account for the loss of a player in Watkins who was their best rebounder in 2013-14. Webb’s produced six double-digit rebounding efforts this season, most recently going for 17 points and 15 rebounds in a comfortable win over Air Force Wednesday night.
“He’s playing hard,” Marks said of Webb. “He’s rebounding the ball like Ryan did last year, and that’s something we needed, and the rest of us are chipping in as well. He’s also shooting the ball well and playing good defense for us.”
While Webb has been their clear leader on the glass five other players are averaging between 2.6 and 3.5 rebounds per game for Boise State, which currently ranks third in the Mountain West in defensive rebounding percentage in conference games (73.2%). And that percentage isn’t far off from the 75.4% defensive rebounding percentage they produced a season ago.
Guard Mikey Thompson gives Boise State another experienced perimeter player, and forward Nick Duncan can pose problems matchup-wise due to his ability to step out and knock down perimeter shots. In total Boise State has nine active players averaging at least 11 minutes per game, and those numbers have been a factor in the Broncos’ climb from 0-3 to tied atop the Mountain West standings in the loss column.
Boise State wasn’t healthy in January, and when combined with an early conference schedule that included trips to fellow NCAA tournament hopefuls Colorado State and Wyoming there were bound to be issues. Now that their key players, save Drmic, are healthy, Boise State is looking to make a run at its first regular season conference title since 2008 (when they were in the WAC).
In the midst of a stretch in which four of their six games are on the road, including a meeting with the Aztecs February 28, the Broncos won’t lack for challenges in their quest for a title.
“It’s a tough stretch, anytime you’re playing a Mountain West road game,” Rice said when asked about the current portion of the schedule. “We’re going to have to play our best basketball these next few weeks to stay in the race.”