BOISE — All Fresno State coach Rodney Terry could do at one point in the first half was shake his head and smile. All Boise State coach Leon Rice could do in the second half was shake his head.
The end result was a 86-79 win for the Broncos at Taco Bell Arena that made them 1-0 in Mountain West play. But Boise State let a 23-point second half lead dip to six in the final seconds in what ended up being a much closer game than it needed to be.
“I’d say we played good basketball for 32 minutes,” said senior Jeff Elorriaga, who had 12 points on his 22nd birthday. “That first half, that was probably our best basketball. It was right there, but just the ending — you have to put teams awayin the Mountain West.
“We just have to put the nail in the coffin. We didn’t do that. You have to put them away and execute and get stops. We have to put them away. We were up 20 there. We have to bury them.”
Boise State held the Bulldogs without a point for more than five minutes in the first half during a 20-0 run that put the Broncos up 32-13. An Elorriaga 3-pointer gave Boise State its biggest lead at 46-22 just before the break.
“I thought we were great on both ends,” Boise State coach Leon Rice said of a first half in which the Broncos hit nine 3-pointers and had a 27-11 rebounding edge. “Our execution was as good as it’s been all year. We moved the ball really well, got guys open shots, and you know how it is, when our guys get open shots, they make them. It was as good a first half as you can play really.”
The same can’t be said for the second half. Boise State took an early 48-25 lead on a basket by Igor Hadziomerovic but scored nine total points in the first nine minutes after the intermission.
The Broncos led 71-54 with 3:03 remaining but saw the lead shrink to 82-76 with 22 seconds left. Though the final outcome was never in doubt, Boise State had plenty of doubt after letting a 23-point second-half lead dwindle to six.
Fresno State shot 55 percent in the second half and outscored Boise State 54-40. They hit 7-of-17 shots from beyond the 3-point line and hit 17 field goals compared to just six for Boise State.
“You can’t put the breaks on for the entire second half, that’s not who we are,” Rice said. “We’re not a very good team if we’re not playing harder than the other guys and scrapping more. That’s how we have to play. We have to be aggressive. We just lost a little bit of that aggression in the second half.”
There was still plenty of good for the Broncos, who improved to 11-3 overall with a tough road test at San Diego State looming on Wednesday night. Ryan Watkins had 15 points and a season-high 17 rebounds to help Boise State outrebound its opponent (42-26) for the first time in six games.
Anthony Drmic led the Broncos with 19 points and the trio of Mikey Thompson, Thomas Bropleh and Nick Duncan came off the bench to combine for 27 points.
Derrick Marks scored the 1,000th point of his career with a bucket in the first half. He’s the 24th player in school history to reach 1,000 points but just the seventh to achieve the feat as a junior. Drmic also reached 1,000 points earlier this season as a junior.
Boise State tied a season high with 18 assists on 24 field goals, improving them to 22-1 when recording at least 15 assists in the last three seasons.
The second half may not have been pretty, but with an important game against a ranked San Diego State team coming up, Rice and the Broncos will surely take it.
“We have to keep getting better,” Rice said. “Every team in this league is dangerous and every night is going to be like that, where you have to play a great game to compete in it. (There are) a lot of good things to build on and a lot of good things we can to take to film and get better at.”
San Diego State, ranked No. 21 in the AP poll, plays at No. 16 Kansas at 2:30 p.m. today in a big non-conference battle for the Mountain West.
“I’m rooting for them tomorrow,” Rice said.