Tough losses have been a hard pill to swallow this season for the Boise State Broncos men’s basketball team.
The Broncos (11-16, 6-8) again had their opportunities to pick up a victory Saturday afternoon in Taco Bell Arena. Missed free throws and untimely turnovers again did them in, losing an overtime affair to the Utah State Aggies, 78-71.
Up 66-61 with 48 seconds left — thanks to a three-pointer from Justinian Jessup — the Broncos allowed the Aggies to battle back. Alex Hobbs missed three of four free throws down the stretch and Utah State star Sam Merrill scored the Aggies (21-7, 12-3) last seven points to force overtime.
Merrill hit three free throws and two buckets in this span after mostly being bottled up by Marcus Dickinson in the second half.
Boise State picked up only one bucket in overtime, a three by Derrick Alston. But Alston also missed two free throws and had a bad turnover when he passed to nobody underneath the basket.
This overshadowed a solid game from the sophomore. Alston led the Broncos with 22 points and had five rebounds. Jessup poured in 21 points in playing 44 of the possible 45 minutes in the game.
Hobbs added 13 points, all in the second half. He also led the Broncos with 10 rebounds.
But free throws were the story as Boise State connected on only 8-16 in the second half and 11 of 19 overall. The Aggies, meanwhile, finished 19-24 from the charity stripe and outrebounded the Broncos by 7.
Boise State came out rusty, turning over the ball on their first two possessions. An early 13-2 run, in which Merrill knocked down three 3’s, put Utah State up 21-9 early.
Alston scored the first 11 points for Boise State and a four-point play from Jessup brought the Broncos within in four at 21-17 with 8:39 left in the half.
The lead stayed between four and nine for Utah State for the rest of the half, with the Aggies sometimes running Merrill through four or more screens per possession. Jessup was the main defender tasked with guarding him in the first half.
Merrill finished the first half with 21 points on 7-10 shooting, including 5-7 from deep, as the Aggies held a 37-30 advantage.
Alston and Jessup combined for 26 of the Broncos 30 first-half points.
Boise State head coach Leon Rice switched things up in the second half, moving Dickinson to guard Merrill. Rice got the desired results from Dickinson, as Merrill shot 2-9 in the second-half and o-4 from three-point range.
Still, the Aggies maintained a three to eight point lead for the first eight minutes of the second half.
Malek Harwell, who scored eight second half points and had a couple of key steals, knocked down a three. Hobbs followed it up with a three of his own to bring the Broncos within two at 48-46.
Harwell, however, gave Utah States Abel Porter, Jr three free throws on a foul. A three by Porter as the shot clock expired — with Jessup in his face — and a wild fadeway by Diego Brito, again with the shot clock expiring, and the Aggies were up nine with 6:34 left.
Boise State kept battling and another Harwell three saw the Utah State lead shrink to two. Harwell tied the game at 59 with two free throws at the 3:39 mark.
Jessup gave the Broncos their first lead of the game with 1:58 left on a baseline jumper in front of the Bronco bench.
Despite their efforts, the Broncos came up short on an afternoon they had their opportunities. Boise State also went small for the latter part of the game, with Harwell playing 25 minutes off of the bench. The Broncos were also without R.J. Williams.
Merrill finished with a game-high 32 points. Porter finished with 16 and Brock Miller 11.
The Broncos will be back in action on 2/27, when they host Colorado State. Tip-off is set for 7 pm (MT).