BOISE — Anybody still doubting this group?
Two weeks ago the Boise State men’s basketball team was swept in Reno, had lost three out of four games and had many wondering if its early season success was due to a lighter schedule.
Friday night the Broncos celebrated a fourth straight win inside ExtraMile Arena and made a strong statement on national TV — we’re legit.
Derrick Alston had 23 points and Abu Kigab added 19 points and the Broncos overcame a 9-point deficit in the second half to top Utah State, 81-77, for their biggest win of the season to date.
“They punched and we counter-punched,” Boise State coach Leon Rice said. “That was an ExtraMile Arena classic. ... What a huge, huge win. Both teams battled. That was just a great college basketball game.”
Boise State (18-4, 14-3 MW) remained in first place in the Mountain West standings with the win. But maybe more importantly, the Broncos secured a huge win for their NCAA Tournament resume. While not a lock to make the NCAA Tournament, the two wins against Utah State make the path more manageable as they look to advance to the Big Dance for the first time since 2015.
“They were huge,” Rice said. “You have to win games down the stretch. You have to win big games in February and there’s a lot of people losing these games. You saw how good the team was we played. Everybody is fighting for their lives and I just give a lot of credit to our guys. They kept battling and just found a way.”
The game was tied at 71-all when Mladen Armus scored on a driving layup to put the Broncos up with 2:18 left. After a free throw from Utah State, Armus scored again to put the Broncos in front 75-72 with 1:47 to play.
The Broncos never trailed again, sending a crowd of 872 into a frenzy as time expired with the four-point win.
“It feels amazing man,” Armus said. “I can’t describe how great we feel right now. I just made a play. It felt amazing of course. I can’t lie.”
Neemias Queta had 30 points and 11 rebounds for Utah State — after scoring 32 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in the first matchup on Wednesday. But the Broncos used a similar game plan — let the big guy get his points but don’t let anybody else beat them — to again come out on top.
Utah State (14-7, 11-4 MW) entered as the top defensive team in the league at 58.1 points allowed per game, but the Broncos scored 79 on Wednesday and 81 on Friday. Boise State made 17 of 23 shots in the second half (74%) to overcome the 9-point deficit.
But it didn’t start nearly as good for the Broncos. Utah State made 8 of its first 9 shots and opened up an early 17-7 lead. But Boise State battled back, and a 3-pointer from Alston cut the deficit to 3 at 19-16 with 13:00 left.
The Broncos trailed 21-16 when a Devonaire Doutrive free throw and buckets from Max Rice and Lukas Milner tied the game. Doutrive then scored on a fast break to give the home team its first lead of the night at 23-21 with 8:45 to play in the half.
But Boise State scored just five points in the final 7:55 of the first half on 2 of 14 shooting. Alston missed six straight shots during that stretch as Utah State turned a 28-27 deficit into a 37-30 lead at the break.
Queta scored four points in the final minute for Utah State, including a turnaround shot in the lane as time expired to give the Aggies some momentum heading into the locker room.
Utah State then opened up a 45-36 lead early in the second half, but the Broncos responded with a 14-0 run to take a 50-45 lead with 13:54 left.
The Aggies answered and led 68-64 with 6:15 left before Derrick Alston’s personal 7-0 run put the Broncos back in front 71-68 with four minutes to go.
Armus took over from there with the biggest moments of his Boise State career, making it a night the Broncos might remember come Selection Sunday.
Boise State moved up to No. 33 in the NET rankings after the game. The Broncos are 2-2 in Quad 1 games and 2-2 in Quad 2 games, which puts them in good shape for the NCAA Tournament.
They'll have a chance to add to the resume next week in San Diego. The Broncos play at No. 25 San Diego State Thursday (7 p.m., FS1) and Saturday (2 p.m., CBS Sports Network).