In a college basketball season that has seen more parity than normal, including a Duke program falling out of the top-25 for the first time in eight years, the Boise State (15-7, 6-3) men’s basketball team has also contributed its fair share of hits and misses.
Currently in third place in the Mountain West Conference, the Broncos have lost their last two games, with struggles in the second-half of both of those games contributing to the losses.
For one reason or another, the Broncos have come out in the second-half of many of their games this season seemingly half asleep. Even in victories, Boise State has often struggled to find a way to play a complete game.
One facet of their game has been missing. It’s not always the same one and, up until the past few weeks, the Broncos have been able to pull out victories despite this one facet holding them back.
Against Utah State and Oregon earlier this season, both victories by the Broncos, they held double digit leads thanks to players attacking the rim and getting to the line.
Leads in those game both vanished thanks in large part to getting away from what got them the lead. A reliance on three-point shooting, with very little ball movement, allowed other teams to get back into the game. Credit can be given to these teams for shooting the ball better or playing improved defense, but a reason the Broncos had to hold on for a win is because they went cold from the field.
Cold-shooting also doomed them in losses to San Diego State and, for a stretch, against New Mexico. The Aztecs are known for their defense so shooting a lower percentage can be expected.
The Broncos actually seemed to shake off the early second-half doldrums against the Lobos last Saturday. The outscored New Mexico 11-5 out of the gate at halftime and then promptly went 6:44 without scoring a point, missing 10 straight shots, many of which were near or at the rim. It also doesn’t help when two of your top offensive threats in James Webb III and Anthony Drmic combine to shoot 5-22 from the field.
A lackluster defensive performance also doomed them against the Lobos. New Mexico shot 56% from the field and 50% from outside the arc. As as been an issue of late, interior defense for the Broncos left something to be desired.
A late barrage of made threes let Boise State finished the game 11-33 from three-point range (after a 5-21 start), which is right at their season average of 33%.
In the loss to UNLV, defense was also a little suspect but the Broncos were still ahead by eight at the half. Turnovers did Boise State in for this game. They committed 18, many of them bad passes from the key that were unforced. This is a team, at the time, that was averaging only 10 turnovers per game. Once again, a less-than-stellar second half did the Broncos in.
Boise State has been so solid in the first half that of their nine conference games, they’ve only trailed at the half for one: against New Mexico. And that was because of a 30-foot desperation three by New Mexico’s Elijah Brown that gave the Lobos a one-point lead at the buzzer.
The Broncos have been best this year when attacking the rim. That is evident in the play of Mikey Thompson, who is having a first-team all-conference sort of year. Thompson is averaging 12.1 points and 4.3 assists per game this season. He did commit five turnovers in the UNLV game, but he followed it up with 17-point, 10-assist, 5-steal game against he Lobos. And he’s made 21 of his last 23 free throw attempts.
The experience and depth of this team should be allowing the Broncos to put teams away. Coming out strong to start the second-half would go a long way in getting Boise State back to their winning ways. They are going to need a strong run and mostly likely need to win the conference tournament if they have any desire to play in the NCAA tournament. Even if the Broncos win out in conference play, the 24 wins most likely won’t be good enough to get an at-large bid if they fail to win the Mountain West tourney.
The good news? Lonnie Jackson seems to be finding his stroke on the offensive end (13 made 3’s in the past three games), Duncan is warming up again (14.8 ppg over last five games) and Drmic has been attacking the basket more as of late. If these three continue to contribute, it should open up the interior for Webb III, who has seen his fair share of double-teams as of late.
The bench, led by Chandler Hutchison, continues to play well, though they seemed almost non-existent in the second half against New Mexico.
Fixing the little things will go a long way to getting the Broncos to where they need to be. Improvement on the defensive end will help as well.
Of course, it won’t matter if they can’t figure out how to start strong those first five minutes of the second half. Do that and this team will be fine. If not, it’s going to be a long off season thinking of what might have been.