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Boise State basketball: Senior of the Day on Senior Day

Boise State coach Leon Rice started all five of his seniors Sunday on Senior Day. One of them really stood out—wire-to-wire.
Credit: Bob Barber-Weiser Signal-American
Boise State's RJ Williams is honored on Senior Day before a game against New Mexico, Sun., Feb. 23, 2020, at ExtraMile Arena. Williams had 27 points and 17 rebounds as Boise State won 74-61.

BOISE, Idaho — Monday, February 24, 2020. 

It’s harder for fans to remember junior college transfers than four-year players as the years go by.  But RJ Williams left an indelible mark on his two-year Boise State career in Sunday’s 74-61 win over New Mexico in Extra Mile Arena.  Williams scored 14 points with eight rebounds in the first half alone, and it got better after that.  He ended with 27 points and a career-high 17 rebounds.  He simply played harder than his Lobos opponents.  Three different times in the game Williams gave the Broncos their biggest lead of the day on an old-fashioned three-point play.  The exclamation point came with just over a minute left.  On a fast break after a steal, fellow Senior Day honoree Justinian Jessup tossed up a lob and Williams slammed it home, predictably bringing the house down.

The story of the game Sunday, team category: Boise State forced 18 New Mexico turnovers and scored 29 points off of them.  The Broncos were locked in defensively, too, holding Lobos standout JaWuan Lyle to six points and six turnovers after he had scored 31 points in UNM’s December win over Boise State.  The story of the game individually (besides Williams, obviously): Jessup put up 15 points, the 10th straight game he’s scored at least 15.  And with four assists, Jessup became the first player in Boise State history to amass 1,500 points, 500 rebounds, 250 assists, 150 steals and 50 blocked shots in a career.

CLOSING IN ON A FIRST-ROUND BYE

San Diego State’s stunning loss to UNLV Saturday night doesn’t change the top seed situation in the Mountain West Tournament, of course.  But it does boost the Rebels’ status, and it affects everyone around them, including Boise State.  Still, by my calculations, the Broncos have a top five seed secured (and the first round bye that goes with it) in the tournament as long as Colorado State loses to SDSU at Viejas Arena on Tuesday night.  And you can bank on it, as mad as the Aztecs are after absorbing the 66-63 defeat at the hands of UNLV that broke their 26-game winning streak.  It’s the Broncos who have to face the Rebels Wednesday night, but BSU could still get the No. 3 seed with a win.

BRONCOS ACQUIT THEMSELVES WELL IN AUSTIN

There’s only one way to look at Boise State baseball’s three-game series at Texas, marking a return to the diamond after a 40-year hiatus: entirely encouraging.  The Broncos were not embarrassed despite being swept by the No. 22 Longhorns.  In fact, Sunday’s series finale was riveting.  Boise State rallied from a 5-1 deficit and tied it 5-5 in the ninth inning on a two-run homer by Timeberline High grad Geon Byoung Kim.  Texas won it in the 10th on a two-run shot of its own, but the Broncos came out of there knowing they can compete.  For the record, the first hit in the new program’s history came from Joe Yorke on a single in the top of the second inning Friday night, and the first home run was on a solo shot Saturday by Austin area native Reagan Doss on the first pitch he saw as a collegian.

HIGHTOWER WARMING UP HIS WHEELS

In his NFL Combine preview column in the Idaho Press Sunday, Mike Prater mused on John Hightower’s chances of creating buzz with a sub-4.4 clocking in the 40-yard dash this Thursday.  Hightower, who arrived at the Combine Sunday—the first of four former Boise State stars to go through the rigmarole in Indianapolis—is certainly capable of it.  NFL scouts and front office personnel will also be able to see Hightower’s basic pass-catching ability.  What they won’t be able to see is Hightower’s knack for making spectacular grabs in traffic.  There’s plenty of video available for that, though.

STEADY AS SHE GOES FOR THE STEELIES

The Idaho Steelheads took care of biz over the weekend, achieving the needed sweep of Rapid City in CenturyLink Arena.  Friday night’s game was tense, and it was Brett Supinski saving the day.  Supinski scored two goals in regulation and produced the only tally in the shootout as the Steelheads beat the Rush 3-2.  On Saturday night, Jonathan Charbonneau finally scored his first goal as a Steelie, and another Supinski goal finished off Rapid City in a 3-1 triumph.  Tomas Sholl rejected 26 of the Rush’s 27 shots on goal to record his 25th win of the season, tops in the ECHL.

YOTES RIPPING UP THE RECORD BOOK

We’re coming to expect this from College of Idaho, but the Coyotes have reached more milestones in this most memorable of seasons.  On Saturday night, the Yotes became the first Cascade Conference team ever to go through a league scheduled undefeated, finishing the campaign 20-0 with a 69-54 win over Corban in Salem.  C of I, now 27-3 overall, have a 21-game winning streak, the fourth-longest at any level of college basketball.  The Yotes will host a first-round game in the Cascade Conference Tournament Wednesday night in Caldwell.  Elsewhere, Northwest Nazarene secured its spot in the GNAC Tournament Saturday night with an 89-87 win over Western Oregon in overtime in Nampa.  The Nighthawks trailed by 16 points midway through the second half before staging a sterling rally.

BRONCOS’ FOURTH-QUARTER FORTUNES TURN

It was the polar opposite of what the Boise State women experienced earlier in the Mountain West season.  The Broncos destroyed New Mexico down the stretch Saturday, dealing the Lobos a 95-76 loss in Albuquerque.  It was a 73-72 game with just under nine minutes left when Boise State went on a 22-1 run.  It was the first time this year’s seniors had ever won at The Pit.  And just like that, it’s Senior Night.  The Broncos host UNLV tonight in ExtraMile Arena, and they’ll be sending off six treasured veterans of the program, including Riley Lupfer.  It’s been fun counting up Justinian Jessup’s three-pointers on the men’s side (he now has 316).  Lupfer?  She has a program record 339.  A win tonight guarantees Boise State the No. 2 seed in the Mountain West Tournament.

HOW OFTEN DOES THIS HAPPEN?

In a sport that features scoring to the thousandths of a point, this was certainly an oddity.  The Boise State and Utah State women’s gymnastics teams tied Friday night in a quad meet at ExtraMile Arena, scoring 196.80.  UC Davis and Sacramento State were third and fourth, respectively.  There was a reunion of Bronco gymnasts before the event, attended by former coaches Jackie Aymon (then Carringer) and Sam Sandmire, who combined to lead the program for more than 25 years.  Aymon is the recently-retired mayor of McCall.

THIS DAY IN SPORTS…February 24, 1980, 40 years ago today: 

The Boys of Winter put an exclamation point on the “Miracle on Ice” and defeat Finland, 4-2, to give the United States the Olympic hockey gold medal at Lake Placid.  It was two days after one of the biggest moments in American sports history, the 4-3 upset of the Soviet Union in the semi-finals.  The USA had been seeded seventh but skated off with their first gold since the other “miracle” in 1960.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 FM KTIK.  He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)