BOISE — Leon Rice said in his postgame press conference that in his nearly 10-year tenure at Boise State, most of his games have been close.
Game No. 300 for the Boise State men’s basketball coach wasn’t, though. The Broncos cruised to an 80-59 nonconference win over UNC Wilmington in Rice’s milestone game Friday night at Extra Mile Arena.
He became just the second coach in program history ever to reach 300 games. Bobby Dye (346) is the only other one.
“That was why I came here. I wanted to build a program and you can’t build a program if you’re not there for a while,” Rice said. “It was kind of like a slap in the face. It’s probably aged me 20 years. But no, it’s an honor to be the coach that long.”
Derrick Alston flirted with a triple-double to lead Boise State with 24 points, seven rebounds and a career-high seven assists. Senior forward RJ Williams nearly had a double-double with 21 points and eight boards. Senior guard Justinian Jessup added 19 points, 16 of which came in the second half to move into 14th place in the all-time scoring list (1,160 points) for the Broncos, who won their third straight game heading into Mountain West play next week.
The Broncos (4-2) visit New Mexico (6-2) at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
“This was definitely big. We definitely wanted to get this one before we got into conference play,” Alston said. “We’ve got a tough one down in New Mexico. I think each and every game we’re just getting a little bit better at everything we’re trying to do.”
In the first ever meeting between the two teams, Boise State jumped out to a 10-0 lead after UNC Wilmington started the game ice cold. The Seahawks missed their first six shots and the Broncos capitalized. Williams had five points himself, Alston added a thunderous two-handed jam and a Jessup corner 3 with 15:53 remaining in the first half capped the run.
But UNC Wilmington (5-4) hung around despite the slow start. After Marcus Dickinson put Boise State up by 10 again at 14-4 on a 3 from the top of the arc at the 13:27 mark, the Seahawks went on a 9-2 run over the next three minutes to cut the deficit to 16-13. The Broncos missed five of six shots during that span.
But Williams scored seven of the game’s next nine points to put the Broncos on the brink of going up by double digits again at 23-15 with 7:30 left. Boise State then looked like it would go into the half comfortably ahead after Alston completed a three-point play to extend the lead to 28-19 with 5:10 remaining. However, five missed shots in a row by the Broncos led to UNC Wilmington going on another 9-2 run over the next three minutes to get to within two at 30-28.
Alston, though, gave his team some breathing room by scoring the next five points, and Boise State took a 35-30 lead into the break.
“BYU, Pacific, all those games, they made runs at us, we made runs at them, and our guys kept their poise, and I think you saw that tonight,” Rice said. “They made some counter punches. They weren’t just going to get down 10-0 and quit.”
But Alston almost made them do just that in the second half by completely taking over.
After a jumper by the Seahawks’ Jaylen Sims trimmed the Broncos' lead all the way down to one at 39-38 with 16:53 remaining, the 6-foot-9, 188-pounder went to work. During Boise State’s 14-6 run over the next seven minutes, he had a hand in every point. Alston recorded nine points and a pair of assists during that stretch of time. The impressive streak finally came to an end on a Williams’ lay-in with 9:08 remaining. But by that time the damage had been done. Boise State led 55-44.
“I think it was just kind of that limbo point in the game. Who’s gonna go and take it?” Alston said. “I just wanted to get in ball screens, make plays for myself and my teammates and just try and extend the lead.”
UNC Wilmington never got back to within single digits after an Alston 3 48 seconds later increased the lead to 58-47. It spawned an 9-0 run. Williams scored four points, including a two-handed dunk, and five more by Jessup blew the game wide open at 67-47 with 6:34 remaining.
Boise State didn’t let UNC Wilmington get any closer than 14 the rest of the way and led by as much as 23 before it was all over.
Sims had 16 points for the Seahawks, who came in having won their last two games. They had also made 69 3-pointers — the 16th most in the country. The Broncos held them to just three.
“It’s just playing our basketball,” Williams said. “We do this every single day in practice and it’s working.”