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Boise State basketball: The grit falls short

Only Derrick Alston Jr. could get a shot off in the first half Thursday it seemed. But he and his teammates played plenty of defense and almost pulled off a miracle.
Credit: Gregory Bull/AP Photo
Boise State’s Derrick Alston Jr. reacts after making a three-pointer during an NCAA game against San Diego State, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021, in San Diego.

BOISE, Idaho — Friday, February 26, 2021.

Unfortunately for Boise State, the Broncos played overtime the way they played the first half at San Diego State Thursday night. Because their second half comeback was courageous, coming all the way back from a 17-point deficit to get to the OT. In the end, Boise State ran out of gas, and the Aztecs won 78-66. SDSU put on a defensive clinic in the first 20 minutes, holding the Broncos to a season-low 17 points. But it was Boise State’s defense that kept it from getting any worse—and it was defense that finally befuddled the Aztecs and fueled the second-half rally that began with an improbable 14-0 run. 

Boise State looked like it had a case of the yips in the first half (something that’s unlikely to happen in Game 2 Saturday). The culmination came at the 4½-minute mark, when the Broncos had scored only 11 points with 11 turnovers and had gone 1-for-11 from beyond the arc. It could have been a lot worse, but the Broncos started grinding on the other end and kept San Diego State from getting away. Then they went with a smaller lineup, the “mob,” as coach Leon Rice calls it, and started forcing turnovers of their own. Their 14-0 run came in less than three minutes midway through the second half, and the game was close from then on. Boise State expended so much energy, though, that there was nothing left in overtime. The Broncos were 1-for-11 from the field in the extra period.

ALSTON’S ONE-MAN OFFENSIVE SHOW

The takeaways from Thursday night’s game: 1) yes, San Diego State is that good, and 2) yes, Boise State can play with the Aztecs. The Broncos just need to get some balance back in Game 2. Derrick Alston Jr. was magnificent again, scoring 29 points and going 7-for-10 from the field in the second half. But someone else needs to step up offensively. The only other Bronco in double-figures was Devonaire Doutrive with 10. If Marcus Shaver Jr. and Abu Kigab could just be normal Saturday—and they’ve both been solid all season—it would go a long way in helping Boise State gain a split in this series. Shaver was held scoreless for the first time this season, and Kigab endured a 1-for-10 shooting night. The Broncos as a whole put up a school-record 40 three-point attempts and made only 12 of them.

THE CRUCIAL GAME 2

Now the Mountain West regular season championship is on the line tomorrow in Viejas Arena. And a lot more. Due to the two forfeits awarded to San Diego State, the Aztecs leapfrogged Boise State into first place with their victory last night. Sure, each team has one makeup game next week, but the Broncos can’t count on SDSU losing to UNLV while they have beat Fresno State. So Game 2 is must-win for them. And then there’s the NCAA Tournament issue. The theory has been win one at San Diego State and Boise State’s in—but lose two, and it’s the Mountain West tournament title or bust.

SENIOR DAY FOR ONE

No makeup games for the Boise State women—they wrap up the regular season today and Sunday against San Diego State in ExtraMile Arena. You never know, but the prospects for success are good, as the Aztecs are 6-15. Sunday’s game will mark Senior Day for the Broncos’ one senior, Mallory McGwire, who will have her family in the stands. Between Oregon and Boise State, McGwire is a 1,000-point career scorer. She’s also second in the Mountain West this season with 8.7 rebounds per game. The Broncos are in good shape for a first-round bye in the Mountain West tournament. They’re in fifth place right now, and the top six get byes with San Jose State having opted out.

THE YOTES HOPE FOR MORE

The College of Idaho men’s season wasn’t over after all. The Yotes scheduled a non-conference game against Eastern Oregon Thursday night—after the Cascade Conference championship series. The Coyotes prevailed 90-80 in this edition of the I-84 rivalry, led by Jalen Galloway’s 26 points. The Yotes also harbor hopes of an at-large berth in the NAIA Championships. They won’t know the verdict on that until next Thursday. Northwest Nazarene knows it has at least four more games (so says the schedule). The 10-1 Nighthawks visit Seattle Pacific tonight and Saturday before going to Central Washington next weekend. NNU is in good position for the NCAA Division II Tournament.

FEBRUARY FOOTBALL IN THE DOMES

Defense has seldom been the strong suit for Idaho football, but the Vandals are optimistic that side of the ball can stand up to Eastern Washington’s high-powered offense Saturday as the shortened and delayed Big Sky season begins in the Kibbie Dome. Idaho’s entire front seven returns, including linebackers Tre Walker and Christian Elliss, who combined for a whopping 242 tackles in 2019. They’ll be dealing with Eagles star quarterback Eric Barriere, who threw for 3,704 yards and 31 touchdowns against just four interceptions in that last campaign. The state’s other dome will be hopping Saturday, too, with Idaho State hosting Weber State at Holt Arena. These teams finished the 2019 season against each other—the Wildcats won 38-10 to win their third straight Big Sky championship, while the Bengals finished 3-9.

SPRING FOOTBALL IN MARCH

Boise State is just two weeks away from spring football. So let’s preview the defensive focus of Andy Avalos’ first spring session with the Broncos. Super-senior linebacker Riley Whimpey delivered the ultimate understatement last week: "First, we need to figure out a way to get turnovers." Boise State was pretty good at that when Avalos was defensive coordinator, but last season, the Broncos had just three takeaways in seven games. All of them were interceptions, and only one came in the heat of battle. How do they improve on that? Play the “very violent brand of football” described by new defensive line coach Frank Maile in his introductory press conference last month. Within the rules, of course.

THIS DAY IN SPORTS…February 26, 2014:

One of the longest and most productive NFL careers of any Treasure Valley native comes to an end, as Fruitland’s Jordan Gross announces his retirement from the Carolina Panthers. Gross, a left tackle, played all 11 of his NFL seasons with the Panthers and was selected to three Pro Bowls while starting a club-record 167 games. He was the No. 8 overall pick in the 2003 NFL Draft out of Utah and started in the Super Bowl as a rookie. 

(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.) 

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