Over the years, the Boise State Broncos have had their fair share of trouble with the Utah State Aggies. There was a huge stretch where the Broncos couldn’t buy a victory on the road over Utah State. There was the buzzer beater from David Collette in January 2015 to shock the Broncos in what was then Taco Bell Arena.
And let’s not forget last season’s overtime loss in Boise, where the Broncos gave up the lead in the final seconds of regulation.
On Saturday night at ExtraMile Arena, the Broncos did their best to make up for some of that past heartbreak with a comeback win for the ages.
The first-half was an effort that saw the Broncos behind the eight ball from the get go. Boise State was down 9-0 early and missing too many easy shots. Rebounding was no better, as the Broncos were minus 13 in total rebounds at halftime.
Every time Boise State began to make some noise — a 4-0 run here, a defensive stop there — the crowd was quieted thanks to the stone-cold shooting of Utah State senior guard Sam Merrill.
A second-half spurt, though 16 minutes, never materialized. Boise State got within nine, rebounded better, but nothing seemed to gather the needed momentum. At the 4:10 mark, the Aggies were up 66-48 and seemingly en route to a road victory.
Even 30 seconds later, when Aggie big man Neemias Queta fouled out, I thought the same thing as he did when the Bronco Corral serenaded him with the chants of a “left, right, left, right”. Queta’s response was a simple laugh as he stared at the scoreboard.
RJ Williams converted two free throws, but it wasn’t enough to keep fans from filing from the exit.
They would miss out on the pure euphoria that soon transpired.
Comeback for the Boise State Broncos begins
It was innocuous at first. A lineup of RayJ Dennis, Marcus Dickinson, Abu Kigab, Williams, and Max Rice was on the floor, an odd mix of seniors, freshman, and a transfer.
A Rice steal here, five points by Dennis there, mixed in with Utah State missed shots, had the Broncos creeping closer.
Still, the clock loomed over head, ticking down to the inevitable zeroes.
More Utah State turnovers and baskets by Williams kept things going as did the sharpshooting of Dennis. A press by the Boise State Broncos, as fuel tanks emptied and bodies hit the floor, helped key this entertaining comeback.
Another Dennis three cut the deficit to six with 1:41 left. Could it be, a miracle in the making?
An emphatic dunk by Dennis gave the fans — many who had been on their feet since the three-minute mark — even more reason to cheer.
Chants of defense filled the arena, among a growing swell of cheers and a chorus of boos. Kigab fouled out on a play where he nearly had a steal, one of many near-misses in the final minutes.
Utah State was hitting just enough free throws, keeping the Broncos at bay. Just over eight seconds remained, the Broncos down 75-70, when Dennis hit another three; a shot that was willed in by the ghosts of Pavilion past. One barely had time to voice appreciation before Justinian Jessup stole the inbound pass, leading to a layup, a tie game.
Emotion carried the Broncos into overtime. Derrick Alston replaced Rice, who left the game to a loud ovation. Alston took the ball inside, Jessup converted from deep, and Dickinson nailed his free throws. The Broncos would finish the game connecting on 12 of 13 from the field, including a perfect 5-5 for Dennis.
Dennis, the true freshman, finished the game with 19 points, all coming in those final minutes.
The final buzzer sounded, an 88-83 victory capped off with an thunderous dunk by Williams (albeit a second too late to officially count). A celebration broke out, almost seeing two years of frustration pouring out onto the court.
It was a comeback no one will soon forget. For the Broncos men’s basketball team, a victory that will hopefully catapult them to greater things in 2020.
*This article was updated to include the final score, something that was missing from 1st version – JH