Boise State coach Leon Rice threw down the gauntlet on Saturday afternoon. Either get in or get out.
Minutes after a 64-61 overtime loss at Air Force — which entered the game 3-12 since Jan. 4 and in 10th place in the 11-team Mountain West Conference — a frustrated Rice showed a rare side of emotion during his post-game interview with play-by-play man Bob Behler on 670 AM KBOI.
Rice, who usually takes the upbeat and positive approach during his sessions with the media, called out his players for missing key free throws that cost them a victory for the second straight game.
“You can say we’re a tough team, you can say we battled every game and we’re in every game and all that, but you’ve got to be a competitor at the free-throw line,” Rice told Behler on 670 AM KBOI. “You can’t start doubting yourself. We missed 11 free throws, but three front ends. We left 14 points on the board, and we’re capable of making those. It’s not like we’re not capable of doing that.
“You control what you can control, and that’s one of things you can. There are two things that don’t last — dogs that chase cars and teams that can’t shoot free throws. Right now, we’re acting like we can’t make a free throw.”
The loss dropped Boise State (19-12, 9-9 Mountain West) to the No. 6 seed in the upcoming Mountain West Tournament in Vegas. The Broncos will play San Jose State in the opening round on Wednesday night at 8 p.m.
Boise State entered Wednesday’s home finale vs. Nevada ranked No. 13 in the nation with a 75.7 percentage from the free-throw line. But they missed four consecutive free throws to end regulation, including the front end of a pair of one-and-ones, before eventually losing in overtime.
The charity stripe again was the culprit Saturday against an Air Force team that had one win against a team not named San Jose State (who is in last place with a 1-17 record in the Mountain West) in more than two months. Boise State went 16-for-27 from the free throw line on Saturday, including two misses from Igor Hadziomerovic with 1:22 remaining and the Broncos trailing by one.
“I’m going to figure out who is going to have confidence enough to go down and compete in the conference tournament and who is going to let it rip in down there,” Rice said. “That’s who we’re taking down to the tournament. If everybody doesn’t want to do that or if everybody’s not going to compete and play confident the way we can play, then they shouldn’t go on the tournament trip with us.
“It may seem a little bit harsh, but I take a lot of pride in our team’s competing, and part of competing is being able to step up and make an unguarded shot from 15 feet.
“I don’t care who we play — I want to control what we can control, and that’s competing. I’m just not happy with that. I think we put effort in and I think we play hard. We want to win, but I want guys that are confident, that are letting it rip, not doubting their shot, not going up to the line scared. I’m not going to make a mountain out of a molehill, but we’re one of the best free-throw shooting teams in the country. You can’t leave those points out there.”
Rice also singled out junior guard Derrick Marks, who had started the past 74 games he had appeared in before coming off the bench Saturday for the first time in more than two years. Marks, the Broncos’ second-leading scorer, played only 15 minutes and had two points.
It was the third time in the past four games that Marks scored five points or less after reaching double figures in 10 of the previous 11 games.
“Derrick’s got to step this up,” Rice said. “He’s got to step it up defensively. He’s got to have a better idea of what we’re doing sharing the ball. Derrick’s a great kid, a great teammate, and he’s going to correct it because we need him.
“I’m going back to the drawing board as far as who I’m playing, trying to figure this out. I know we’re banged up — I think sometimes when it is what it is, you’ve got to play through those injuries. The hard thing is we haven’t been able to practice through those enough, but now it’s time. It’s the end of the year.”