For nearly 35 minutes against New Mexico on Wednesday night, the Boise State Broncos men’s basketball team was playing like the team we all expected them to be this season.
Anthony Drmic was knocking down everything. Defensive intensity was leading to easy buckets on the fast break. Up by 76-61 with the clock nearing five minutes, the Broncos looked like they were going to come out as victors in The Pit for the second consecutive season.
Then the bottom fell out.
Free throws were missed. Phantom fouls were called. The offense stalled. Intensity waned. Everything that has plagued Boise State at various points this season once again came back to haunt them all at once, leading to a heart-wrenching, inexcusable 80-78 loss to New Mexico.
After giving away their large lead, Boise State had one final opportunity with eight seconds left. If this game were a Hollywood movie based on real life, the final three-point attempt by Drmic would have gone in, capping off a season-high 30 point performance by the senior.
Unfortunately, this being the 2015/16 Boise State Broncos, the shot did not fall, the team now once again looking back at what might have been. Another victory had been taken away from them, except this time it was due to their own struggles.
Granted, partial credit can be given to Elijah Brown, who scored 13 of the Lobos final 19 points.
It was Boise State that lost this game, a game that would have put them back in second place with a win. Now they are in fifth, currently looking up at four teams, three of which the Broncos are easily better than on paper. They are still sitting in a good spot to receive a first day bye in the Mountain West tourney, but with each loss that mounts, either caused by their own faults or by the faults of others, the team’s belief in themselves has to be waning. Just when the team has appeared to put it all together, as they did against Wyoming and for most of the New Mexico game, Boise State takes one step back and gives away a game that should have been theirs.
The move of Drmic and Nick Duncan to the bench has paid dividends for the Broncos (though don’t look at the win column for facts to back that up. It will say the Broncos are 1-2 since the move). The team seems to be playing with more urgency and intensity, something that was lacking during stretches in January. James Webb III continues to put up double-doubles and Lonnie Jackson has had a nice February in which he is averaging nearly 13 points per game. Montigo Alford has stepped up since his move to the starting lineup.
Yet there is still something missing. Lapses in concentration and execution have been the downfall of this team. Alford probably could have used a breather at some point last night, evidenced by Brown taking control towards the end of the game.
Missed free throws by Duncan and Drmic down the stretch are inexcusable. Coach Leon Rice seemingly has the team take its foot off the gas pedal with six minutes left is inexcusable. Refs making bad calls, phantom calls, and no calls at all are inexcusable (Oh, wait, that’s probably ammo for a different article altogether. Though I will say it played a part in the loss against New Mexico).
There is still time for Boise State to figure it all out. They have a weekend off to rejuvenate and gear up for their last four conference games. At least three of those should be wins, but it’s not out of the realm of possibilities for the Broncos to win all four.
Some of the teams that have gone furthest in tournaments (conference and NCAA alike) are teams that got hot at the right time. This is not to say the Broncos are a Syracuse or a Connecticut caliber team from years past, but they still have the talent and productivity to win seven games in a row (or even just three, as long as those three are in the Mountain West tournament). The question remains: How bad does Boise State want it? If the results from 35 minutes of great basketball against the Lobos are any indication, this team wants it bad.
Or were those last five minutes the final dagger to the esteem and confidence of this team? It might be too soon to tell, but if it doesn’t get figured out quickly, these final few weeks will prove to be a frustrating end to an already frustrating season, for both fans and the program alike.