Wednesday night’s game against No. 5 San Diego State represented a great opportunity for the Boise State Broncos. With all five starters back from a team that reached the NCAA tournament a season ago, the Broncos entered the 2013-14 season with questions of whether or not they had the ability to contend for a Mountain West title. A return to the Big Dance seemed to be a given, with guards Anthony Drmic, Derrick Marks and Mikey Thompson and forward Ryan Watkins expected to lead the way.
Unfortunately for the Broncos things haven’t worked out as planned, with Leon Rice’s team sitting at 15-8 overall and 5-5 in Mountain West play. And their 67-65 loss to the Aztecs, capped by a Dwayne Polee II three-pointer with just over four seconds remaining, followed a script that Boise State has become all too familiar with.
Of Boise State’s five Mountain West defeats four have been by four points or less, with the opposition being the ones capable of making those winning plays down the stretch. Against San Diego State two occurrences resulted in the latest heartbreaking defeat.
First and foremost, San Diego State point guard Xavier Thames put forth a masterful display in the second half. The fifth-year senior accounted for 15 of his 23 points in the second half while also taking better care of the basketball (two assists, two turnovers) after turning the ball over five times in the first 20 minutes.
The other occurrence? That would be Boise State’s perplexing lack of ball movement down the stretch, something that according to Brian Murphy of the Idaho Statesman has become commonplace in tight games.
Then came the same nightmarish qualities that have become Boise State’s signature. Forget a signature win, this team’s John Hancock is its inability to close…
The Broncos’ familiar free-flowing, motion offense, the same one that yields open 3-pointers and lanes to the basket earlier in the game, grinds to a halt. The ball sticks. The passes come slower. The offense goes stale, resulting in wild drives into the teeth of the defense late in the shot clock.
To this point in the season Drmic is leading Boise State in scoring with an average of 16.8 points per game, shooting 44.9% from the field and 35.3% from beyond the arc. Against San Diego State the junior scored 11 of his 13 points in the first half, but what makes that figure even more concerning is the fact that Drmic attempted just four of his 13 shots in the second half.
Boise State’s second-half shot distribution was as follows: Marks (ten attempts), Drmic (four), Thompson (three) and Thomas Bropleh (three). So two of Boise State’s top three scorers, Drmic and Watkins (11.8 ppg), attempted a total of four shots in the second half. Against a team that defends as well as San Diego State does, a lack of offensive balance ultimately won’t cut it.
Even with the scorers the Broncos have, they are ninth in the Mountain West in assist percentage with just over 44% of their made baskets being assisted. So to expect this group to suddenly morph into a squad that will assist on, say, six out of every ten made shots would be a bit unrealistic.
But the ball movement can’t grind to a halt, something that has been an issue in the majority of Boise State’s close defeats. This likely goes hand in hand with the doubts that creep into the Broncos’ heads in tight games, with Rice noting after Wednesday’s defeat that he “saw that look in our guys’ eyes” according to the Statesman.
Regardless of what the issues may be in close contests, Boise State needs to figure out a solution quickly.