BOISE — With one dunk, Justinian Jessup slammed home more than a year’s worth of frustration.
Jessup stole the ball, waited for a defender to go by him and threw down a left-handed slam with 36 seconds left in overtime to give Boise State a 69-64 lead.
The Broncos held on from there, topping BYU 72-68 in an early season thriller Wednesday night at ExtraMile Arena.
“We exorcised some demons tonight,” Boise State coach Leon Rice said. “And you don’t do that if you don’t win that game.”
Boise State went 1-9 in games decided by 3 points or less or overtime a year ago and finished as the unluckiest team in the country according to KenPom.com. In many of those games the Broncos didn’t have a finisher, someone that wanted to take the big shot.
Jessup changed that narrative with a couple huge shots.
First came a step-back 3-pointer in overtime to put the Broncos up 65-64 with 2:20 left. Then came the dunk, when he picked off a pass and went the other way for a rare slam to make it a two-possession game.
“It was like, ‘alright, we’re winning this. This is not how it’s going to go this year’,” Jessup said. “We’re flipping the switch. We’re flipping the story. We’re going to win this.”
Derrick Alston led the Broncos with 26 points and 11 rebounds and RJ Williams added 18 points and seven rebounds for Boise State, which led by as many as nine points in the first half.
Back to back 3-pointers from BYU’s Connor Harding gave the Cougars a 39-38 lead with 13:34 to play. From there the teams exchanged the lead 13 times and no team led by more than three points until Jessup’s dunk in overtime.
“It was a great back-and-forth game there in the second half,” Rice said. “They threw some good punches, we threw some counter punches and on and on and on and our guys toughed it out there in the end. I was just really proud of the grit we showed tonight.”
Jessup missed his first six shots and was just 1 for 10 before hitting the go-ahead 3-pointer in overtime.
“I was playing awful,” Jessup said.
Boise State had a chance late in regulation to take the lead, but a jump shot from Hobbs rimmed out with about 30 seconds left. BYU held for the final shot as the crowd rose to its feet, but Jake Toolson’s pull-up missed as time expired and the game went to overtime.
“It seemed like it went really slow. Time slowed down,” Rice said of BYU’s potential game-winner that rimmed off.
Alston has scored at least 22 points in each of the first four games and is the first player in Boise State history to have at least 20 in the first four games. He’s averaging 25.0 points per game, which ranks No. 6 nationally.
“Knowing the magnitude of the game, you know we don’t try to make it like our season or anything like that, but we knew we had a really big opportunity here,” Alston said. “To play a really good team that is potentially an NCAA Tournament team, we came out there confident. We were playing to win.”
After Jessup’s 3-pointer put the Broncos in front in overtime, Alston drove and found Robin Jorch for a layup to put Boise State up 67-64 with 1:39 remaining. Jorch, who came in when Williams fouled out, also had a key block in overtime on a fast break.
“He delivered when we needed him the most,” Rice said of Jorch.
Both teams got off to a horrid start from the field, going a combined 2 for 14 in the early going as BYU led 7-6. Alston scored 10 of Boise State’s first 12 points, and his bucket and free throw tied the game at 12 with 8:45 left in the half.
The Broncos finally took the lead at 13-12 on a Williams free throw with 8:21 left in the half. It marked Boise State’s first lead against a Division I opponent this season, a span of 91:39 to start the year. They never led in losses to Oregon and UC Irvine heading into Wednesday.
Williams went to work inside, scoring on back to back buckets to put the Broncos up 17-14. A basket from Hobbs, two free throws from Alston and another bucket from Williams gave the Broncos their biggest lead of the half at 23-14 lead.
Boise State led 27-20 at the break despite shooting 1 for 9 from 3-point range. The Broncos did it with their defense, holding BYU to 8 of 32 (25 percent) from the field and just 2 of 10 from 3-point range.
The Broncos had already lost consecutive games to Oregon and UC Irvine and badly needed a win against BYU to stem the tide from a rough start to the year. And they did just that thanks to a few big shots from Jessup.
Boise State is now 1-0 this season in games decided by three points or less or overtime.
“There you go,” Rice said with a laugh. “That’s a stat I like.”