For roughly the first 16 minutes of Friday’s Mountain West tournament semifinal game, the Boise State Broncos men’s basketball team played almost perfect basketball.
It was the following 24 minutes that ultimately sealed the game for the San Diego State Aztecs.
The Broncos were flowing early, knocking down three’s and keeping the Aztecs from doing the same, building a lead as big as 16.
Then the lid to the basket closed. And remained there for the Broncos while San Diego State proved why they’ve only lost once so far this season. The end result was a 81-68 victory for the Aztecs and a berth in the Mountain West tournament championship game on Saturday.
For the Broncos, it was an effort, that though valiant, left them once again falling short in competing for the Mountain West tournament title.
Back in the semifinals for the first time since 2015, Boise State (20-12) came out firing. But scoring only five points in the last 5:40 of the first half and connecting on only seven field goals in the second half could not sustain the early momentum.
Senior Alex Hobbs had one of his best games of the season, scoring 21 points on 7-11 shooting. Hobbs also had four assists.
Four other Broncos reached double figures as RJ Williams and Derrick Alston, Jr each had 12 while Justinian Jessup and Abu Kigab added 10.
The Aztecs were forced into an outside game by Boise State and responded by connecting on 15 three-pointers. Malachi Flynn led the way with 22 points, KJ Feagin had 21 (five 3’s) and Matt Mitchell had 17.
After a first-half in which the Broncos connected on 57.7 percent of their field goal attempts, Boise State managed to a chilly 23.3 percent in the second. Outside of the poor shooting, Boise State matched up well. They had five more rebounds than the Aztecs and committed only 11 turnovers.
Boise State Broncos early intensity
The outset of this semifinal game had all the makings of another San Diego State (30-1) rout.
Boise State found the scoring column first when Alston threw down a monster dunk. But the Aztecs went up 9-2 thanks to threes by Mitchell, Feagin, and Jordan Schakel.
Fifth-ranked San Diego State made their fourth three-pointer to go up 12-7.
That’s when the Broncos caught fire.
Boise State hit their next eight shots, all while the Aztecs missed seven in a row. The result was a 16-0 run, spurred on by threes from Hobbs and Alston.
The lead continued to grow thanks to another Hobbs three, which he followed with a steal and a layup. Alston found the bottom of the net for another three. This was followed up by a running hook by Williams, giving Boise State a 35-19 lead with 5:40 left in the first half.
The Aztecs found their mark again, however, and slowly clawed their way back. The Broncos connected on only one field goal in this span as San Diego State closed the half on a 21-5 run. This was capped off by a Schakel three just before halftime and the teams went to the locker room knotted at 40.
The cold spell at the end of the first half spilled over into the second for the Broncos, while the Aztecs picked up right where they left off.
Flynn scored the first four points, followed by a couple of threes from Feagin as the lead grew to nine. Jessup closed it to six at 54-48 with his first made three-pointer of the game.
The Aztecs continued to do just enough on offense while Boise State missed on everything. Points from the line helped the Broncos linger around the nine-point deficit.
Time after time, though, Flynn, Feagin and Mitchell proved to be too much. Offensive struggles continued for the Broncos. Even when they had multiple opportunities in one possession, Boise State failed to score.
At the 5:12 mark, the Aztecs’ lead swelled to 14. Jessup was able to cut it to eight a few minutes later with a three-pointer, but that’s as close as they’d get the remainder of the game.
Williams had a game-high 12 rebounds to go along with his 12 points, his fourth-straight double-double. He had 23 points and 17 rebounds in Thursday’s quarterfinal win over UNLV.
Jessup had trouble getting going — and open — all night as Feagin kept him bottle up. Jessup was 3-10 from the field and Alston was 4-17.
For the Broncos, they’ll wait to see if a postseason opportunity is available in the NIT or one of the lower tournaments.
For the Aztecs, a possible number one seed in the NCAA tournament awaits. First, they’ll take on the Utah State Aggies for the Mountain West championship. The Aggies defeated Wyoming 89-82 in the other semifinal.