BOISE — It’s two games, so let’s keep things in perspective.
But compared to a year ago? It’s hard not to notice what’s going on with the Boise State men’s basketball team.
Last year, as many know by now, the Broncos went 1-9 in games decided by three points or less and overtime. They lost 10 games in which they led at the half.
With the game hanging in the balance in the final minutes, the Broncos were unable to make the big stop on defense or hit the crucial shot. They’d commit a bad foul, or give the ball away on a turnover.
The result became almost expected — the Broncos suffering a heartbreaking defeat at the buzzer. KenPom.com ranked the Broncos as the unluckiest team in college basketball in the 18-year history of the site.
Things may be evening out this year. Boise State’s last two games against BYU and Pacific both went to overtime, and the Broncos (3-2) have found ways to pull both out. They topped BYU 72-68 in overtime before winning at Pacific last Saturday, 82-76, in triple overtime.
“Man it’s crazy seeing where we came from last year and not being able to finish games,” senior point guard Marcus Dickinson said. “It’s big for us because the BYU game, Pacific, being able to finish. If it was last year we wouldn’t (have) won those games. It was huge. It’s a big momentum starter for us.”
In both games the opposing team had the ball in the final seconds of regulation with a chance to win the game. Jake Toolson’s shot rimmed off for BYU, and the Broncos eventually won in overtime. Pacific also missed a shot near the buzzer, and Jeremiah Bailey’s putback was ruled to have come after time expired.
Was there a little bit of luck involved? Sure. But after last year, the Broncos will gladly take it.
“Maybe it’s the experience we gained going through what we went through before,” Boise State coach Leon Rice said. “We didn’t panic or ever surrender, we just stayed in the fight together and that’s kind of our motto and that’s what they are doing.”
Rice and the Broncos spent all offseason focused on “finishing” the end of games. They used the mindset to finish every drill, workout and conditioning rep the right way, in hopes of carrying over that mindset to the final few minutes of games this season.
Through two games the difference is already noticeable.
“That was a tough year on them. They aren’t going to win them all, but they don’t want to go through that again,” Rice said. “I’ve got winners out there. Marcus stepped up, Justinian stepped up, Hobbs stepped up, when we needed it most.
“I think it was the experience that I’ve talked about. You go through it and you come out the other side better because of it, and that’s what I’m seeing right now.”
Justinian Jessup hit clutch shots in overtime of both games, and both Marcus Dickinson and Alex Hobbs made plays late.
A year ago, Jessup passed the ball instead of taking the final shot in a close loss at New Mexico. Now he’s asking for the ball, and welcoming the chance to have the game in his hands.
Jessup hit a go-ahead 3-pointer in overtime against BYU, and made a long jumper in the final seconds of the first overtime to tie the game at Pacific.
“I think it’s a collective effort and a will to win, that’s the biggest thing,” Jessup said. “In those huddles we’re talking and energized and determined to pull it out and grind it out any way possible. We’ve found a way.
“We have grit. That was definitely in question after the first couple games, but I think we’re finding out we have grit and a little bit of toughness to us and that’s good to know.”
Boise State currently ranks as the No. 14 luckiest team in the country from KenPom.com. Rated the unluckiest last year, the Broncos will have no problem being on the other end of the spectrum this year.
The Broncos are hoping no overtime or last-second magic will be needed Friday when they host UNC-Wilmington (5-3) at 7 p.m at ExtraMile Arena. It’s the final tuneup for the Broncos before they open Mountain West play Wednesday night at New Mexico.
After tough losses to Oregon and UC Irvine, the Broncos appear to be building some confidence and momentum. Two close wins will do that for you.
“We’re going out and getting it done,” Jessup said. “It’s not just luck. Definitely luck plays a part in it, but we’re definitely taking care of things on our side.
“We’re by no means where we want to be yet, but we’re going to continue to get better. We’re excited.”
Friday’s game will stream live on the Mountain West Network, and a link can be found at BroncoSports.com. Tickets are available starting at $15.