BOISE — Coming off the first 20-loss season in school history, Boise State coach Leon Rice could have padded the early part of the schedule with some easy games to get his group some confidence and wins.
In hindsight, maybe he should have.
Boise State trailed from start to finish for a second straight game and fell 69-60 to UC Irvine Friday night at ExtraMile Arena.
In two games against Division I opponents, the Broncos have yet to hold a lead.
“I could have put five cupcakes at the start of the schedule, and it might have been a good idea to do that,” Rice said. “We choose to be aggressive and schedule some great games and now we have to step up and get better from it.”
Derrick Alston Jr. had 22 points and six rebounds and RJ Williams continued his strong start to the season with 20 points and 11 rebounds, but the Broncos didn’t get nearly enough from everybody else.
Players not named Alston and Williams combined for just 22 points, 10 of which came from Justinian Jessup. Only six players scored, and only those three had more than four. Alex Hobbs had just four points, Marcus Dickinson had three and Max Rice had one.
The Broncos (1-2) shot just 30.9 percent from the field (17 for 55) in their worst shooting performance since they shot 29.6 percent against Loyola Chicago on Dec. 23, 2014.
“With us, it’s all about shot selection and getting each other shots,” Rice said. “We got a little desperate and got a little impatient and didn’t get ourselves the right shots. If we get the right shots we’ll make them.”
Rice joked after his group made 17 shots from 3-point range in a season-opening win that they might have used them all up for the rest of the year. In two games since, both losses, the Broncos have made just 10 of 44 shots from 3-point range.
Boise State was 4 for 21 from deep Friday after making just 6 of 23 from beyond the arc against Oregon. The Broncos were 0 for 9 from 3-point range in the first half.
“We trust our guys that shoot those and we want them to keep shooting those shots because they are going to fall,” Williams said. “We see them fall everyday in practice. They will fall.”
Alston played all but 21 seconds and had what could be described as a frustrating 22 points. He started 0 for 6 from 3-point range and finished just 4 of 14 from the field overall.
It started off poorly and never really improved for the Broncos, who fell behind 6-0 in the opening minutes. Irvine pushed the lead to 15-5, and upped it to 22-11 on a 3-pointer from Eyassu Worku with 10:10 left in the first half.
Boise State trailed by double digits the rest of the half, with Irvine extending it to 29-14 on a bucket from Worku. The Broncos missed all nine 3-point attempts in the first half and trailed 38-24 at the break after missing five free throws, committing six turnovers and letting Irvine shoot 51 percent from the field.
“Started out slow,” Alston said. “It’s never offense for us. We know our shots will fall. Defensively it starts there, bringing that energy. And then we took some bad shots on offense.”
Irvine scored the first six points of the second half to open up a 20-point lead, forcing Rice to call a timeout after a steal and layup from Worku that made it 44-24 just two minutes in.
The Broncos slowly climbed back into it, scoring seven straight to cut the deficit to 44-31. An and-one from Williams and a 3-pointer from Alston brought the Broncos within eight at 49-41 with 12:20 to play.
But the 17-5 run was quickly ended when Jeron Artest nailed a 3-pointer and Austin Johnson followed with a bucket to put the Anteaters back in front by 13 at 54-41.
The Broncos didn’t get the margin back into single digits until the final minutes, when any hope of a comeback was long gone.
Boise State set school records for the most points (126) and biggest victory margin (77) in a season-opening 126-49 win over NAIA Life Pacific. In two games since, they’ve lost by 31 points at Oregon — the worst loss in Rice’s 10 years at Boise State — and were kept at arms length by a UC Irvine team that won 31 games last year and upset Kansas State in the NCAA Tournament.
Not helping is the loss of Riley Abercrombie to a broken wrist and the absence of Oregon transfer Abu Kigab, who is not eligible until the end of the first semester.
It’s a long season and the schedule will eventually get a bit easier — not yet with BYU coming to town Wednesday — so the Broncos aren’t about to waive the white towel.
It was a rough week, but the Broncos are banking on it paying off down the road.
“There’s no panic mode,” Rice said. “These are going to make us better.”
Boise State hosts BYU on Wednesday at 8 p.m. The game will be televised nationally on the CBS Sports Network.