Leon Rice is not into moral victories and he badly wanted to be on the other side of a 80-78 loss at The Pit at New Mexico on Wednesday night.
But there was a lot for him and the Broncos to like moving forward.
Justinian Jessup had 24 points, Derrick Alston Jr. added 20 and the Broncos made 14 3-pointers, but they came up just short in a thrilling Mountain West opener for both teams.
The Broncos (4-3, 0-1 MW) battled tough on the road, but New Mexico took the lead on a bucket with 34.8 seconds left and the Broncos missed two shots in the final seconds that could have won them the game.
“This is one of the toughest places to play and I was just really pleased with the way the guys battled,” Rice said during his postgame radio interview. “We were a couple missed free throws and a couple just not good plays away from winning that game.”
Marcus Dickinson tied a career high with 16 points and Alex Hobbs had 14 for the Broncos, but it was Hobbs who missed the front end of a one-and-one with 1:30 left with Boise State leading 76-75.
A questionable foul on Jessup led to a pair of free throws for New Mexico’s JaQuan Lyle with 1:02 to play, but Hobbs made two free throws with 46.3 seconds left to put the Broncos back in front 78-77.
New Mexico’s Carlton Bragg got free under the bucket an scored with 34.8 seconds left to give the Lobos a 79-78 lead.
Jessup appeared to air ball a long shot with 18.7 seconds left, but the Broncos got the ball back after the officials reviewed the play and determined the ball was tipped by a New Mexico defender.
Hobbs missed a 3-pointer from the corner with about six seconds left, and the Broncos were forced to foul with 2.1 left. New Mexico made one of two from the line to lead 80-78.
Boise State’s long inbounds pass was stolen, but the New Mexico player stepped on the sideline to give the Broncos the ball near their bench with 0.9 seconds left.
Jessup caught the ball on the inbounds pass, but was quickly double teamed, and his contested, off-balance 3-pointer missed as time expired.
“We have a good ball club,” Rice said. “Not many teams come in here and win. We knew it was going to be tough. New Mexico is a good team and they are a hard team to beat.
“I thought our guys kept with it and kept battling and weathered a bunch of storms, but in the end, missing that front end was crucial at that stage of the game.”
The last five games between Boise State and New Mexico at The Pit have been decided by a total of 12 points.
Boise State led for nearly the entire first half before a back-and-forth second half saw 15 lead changes in the final 20 minutes.
Jessup matched a career high with six 3-pointers and finished 6 of 10 from deep. The 24 points were a season high and one short of his career high.
Ohio State transfer Lyle had 31 points for New Mexico (8-2, 1-0 MW), while Bragg added 17 points and nine rebounds. The Lobos had a 48-20 advantage in points in the paint, and a 20-5 edge on fastbreak points.
Boise State’s bench contributed just two points in the loss.
A big turning point in the game came with 5:08 to play and the game tied at 68. Both RJ Williams and Bragg were given technical fouls for trash talking, but Williams continued to talk and was given a second technical that resulted in an ejection.
Bragg made both technical free throws and the Lobos added two more points on the accompanying possession to briefly go up 72-68.
“I thought a crucial play was the double technical and Rod kind of kept going,” Rice said. “He didn’t walk away when he should walk away and that cost us points. I’m not putting it on him, but he’s got to be smarter than that.”
But the Broncos battled back with a 3-pointer from Dickinson, two free throws from Alston and a driving layup from Alston to lead 75-72 with 3:10 left.
Boise State couldn’t hold on, as New Mexico rallied in the final minute to end the Broncos’ three-game winning streak.
“We’re not into moral victories,” Rice said. “But I was proud of the way the guys battled.”
Boise State returns home to host Colorado State Saturday night at 7 p.m. at ExtraMile Arena. Fans with a ticket to the Mountain West football championship at 2 can purchase a ticket to the basketball game for just $5.