As the Mountain West tournament approaches, both the Broncos and Aggies had a chance to make a statement. For Boise State, they had the opportunity to sweep Utah State in the regular season and win the first of two high profile home games in four days. The Aggies were looking to stay above water and keep any lingering chance of an at-large bid alive with a win in Boise. Over 10,000 spectators showed up to ExtraMile Arena and former Broncos Chandler Hutchison and Zach Haney also attended.
The game got off to a rocky start with multiple turnovers committed by both squads. Both teams found their rhythm eventually, but the margin never eclipsed six throughout the first half. Emmanuel Akot, who had missed the last four games due to a knee injury, was available and scored his first points since February 3rd with 12:44 left. Tyson Degenhart led the way throughout the first 20 minutes, scoring nine points and helping facilitate the offense. For Utah State, EJ Eytle-Rock took the reins and scored eight points, preventing Boise State from extending their lead. Marcus Shaver Jr. hit a last-second jumper to bring the Broncos within one at the half, down 30-29.
Coming out of the break, Boise State jumped out to an 8-2 run thanks to a pair of threes from Marcus Shaver Jr. and Max Rice. Utah State scoring leader Justin Bean, who was shut out in the opening frame, got his first points of the game with 15:44 left in the second half. Eytle-Rock and Bean helped the Aggies retake the lead with 11:42 remaining. The Broncos responded with another scoring run and propelled their lead to as high as five. As the clock ticked down and hit the three minute mark, the Aggies had positioned themselves to be in striking distance, only down five. After a three by Aggie Rylan Jones, Abu Kigab forced his way to the line and made both free throws. With a four point lead following a missed three by Bean, Marcus Shaver Jr. stepped up once again when it mattered most and drilled a three-pointer with two minutes to go. Contributions from Shaver, Degenhart, and Kigab aided in the Broncos salting away the game and sending Utah State back to Logan with a loss by a score of 68-57.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the apparent banter between Utah State head coach Ryan Odom and Boise State player Max Rice. Without getting into the weeds, it appeared that Rice was listening into a Utah State huddle and Odom was not too fond of this. Certain phrasing was caught by the telecast and I will go ahead and let you decipher what he said. Once the game was over, Odom and Boise State head coach Leon Rice met each other at the scorer’s table and Odom voiced his…let’s say frustrations. In a postgame interview, Leon Rice briefly spoke about the dustup, referring to the intensity that both teams played with and that it is never the intention of those affiliated with Boise State to disrespect another program.
When looking at the numbers, Utah State was quite average from the floor. The Aggies shot 43 percent from the field and 31 percent from beyond the arc. There weren’t many opportunities at the charity stripe as they only shot six free throws, converting on four of them. Individually, EJ Eytle-Rock led the Aggies in scoring with 16 points. Brandon Horvath and Zee Hamoda were the only other Aggies to reach double digits, scoring 11 and 10 points, respectively.
For the Broncos, Marcus Shaver Jr. not only solidified the win with his clutch three-pointer, but he also led the team in scoring with 20 points. Abu Kigab played a veteran role in this game, going for 17 points and helping on the glass with four rebounds. Tyson Degenhart, the now eight-time winner of the Mountain West Freshman of the Week, added 12 points and made himself known on the defensive end with a pair of blocks and steals. The Broncos shot 52 percent from the field and 29 percent from downtown, only making five three-pointers. The biggest discrepancy in the stat sheet was the difference in free throws attempted. While the Aggies only went to the line six times, Boise State was sent to the charity stripe 28 times. The Broncos made 19 freebies, good enough for 68 percent.
Going forward, Utah State has three games remaining, two of them against bottom-feeders New Mexico and San Jose State. The other game is a tough test when Colorado State comes to Logan this Saturday, February 26th. As of now, Utah State would be the eight seed in the Mountain West tournament and play against New Mexico. At this point, the Aggies have no shot at an at-large bid and they will need to win the conference tournament and take the automatic bid away from the top of the conference.
As for Boise State, they have four games left and all of them will be difficult. The remaining schedule consists of visits to UNLV and Colorado State, along with home games against San Diego State and Nevada. The Broncos control their fate, and winning three of these last four games should make them a near lock to go dancing in March.
Boise State will welcome San Diego State to ExtraMile Arena tomorrow, February 22nd. The game is slated for 7:00 MST (6:00 PST) and will be televised on CBS Sports Network (CBSSN).