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Boise State Broncos ride high through conference play

Tied for first place in the Mountain West, Boise State hosts UNLV and Colorado State in two pivotal matchups

NCAA Basketball: Boise State at San Diego State
Marcus Shaver Jr.’s late game heroics were a big factor in the Broncos’ 14-game winning streak. He is averaging 12.7 points and 3.8 rebounds per game.
Ray Acevedo-USA TODAY Sports

After a tough 3-4 start to the season, the Boise State Broncos flipped the switch and won their next 14 games, setting a school record for consecutive wins.

Entering the season, the expectations were high in Boise. Coming off a second round NIT appearance, the Broncos were picked fourth in the Mountain West preseason poll. Leon Rice’s squad was expected to be in the thick of things all season long.

The Broncos, who are tied for first in the Mountain West, have a pair of pivotal games this weekend when it hosts UNLV Friday and Colorado State Sunday.

In that early stretch, the Broncos suffered 46-39 loss to CSU Bakersfield on Nov. 26. That was one of just six wins so far for the Roadrunners, who currently sit 254th in the KenPom ratings.

To add insult to injury, Boise State paid $85,000 for Bakersfield to come in and play them, the highest sum of money the Broncos paid for a buy game this season

“No disrespect to Bakersfield, but we were awful,” Rice told Mid-Major Madness. “So I came in the next day and said ‘I declare this rock bottom.’”

The Broncos then lost to Saint Louis in overtime, which dropped their record to 3-4, but what followed was pure magic. They reeled off 14 straight wins, including the first eight games of conference play. In non-conference, they defeated a good Santa Clara team and Washington State from the Pac-12 in Spokane, Wash., which was a homecoming of sorts.

Before arriving in Boise in 2010, Rice spent 11 seasons at Gonzaga, which is located in Spokane. Not only was it a homecoming for both he and his son, Max, who is a redshirt junior, but Mountain West Freshman of the Year frontrunner Tyson Degenhart and Naje Smith are also from there. The Broncos ultimately beat the Cougars 58-52 to pick up their biggest win of the non-conference season.

“It was really neat because the two Spokane kids played well,” said Rice. “We kinda started establishing our identity (towards the end of non-conference), and it snowballed upon itself.”

Six days later, Max Rice helped power the Broncos to a 10-point win over Fresno State in the Mountain West opener. He had six rebounds in that game, playing a huge role as the sixth man.

After a two-week COVID pause, Boise State dominated Nevada 85-70. Marcus Shaver and Emmanuel Akot combined for 51 points. The Broncos followed that win with victories at the Pit against New Mexico and Air Force, to stretch its winning streak to 10. They then entered a crucial week with games at Utah State and at San Diego State, two tough places to play.

“We’ve run a gauntlet that nobody’s run yet,” Leon Rice told Mid-Major Madness, “It seems like every night we’re playing a good team.”

The Utah State game went down to the wire, but this was where the legend of Marcus Shaver Jr. began to grow. With 1.4 seconds remaining, Shaver buried a three. It was his only made shot of the night and happened to be the game-winner.

“I told him, ‘You’re going to make the next one,’” Rice said. “I called the play for him, and the ball was in, I knew that was going in because I’ve seen that before”

At San Diego State, it was a defensive struggle. The Broncos held the Aztecs to 28% shooting from the field. The two teams were tied at 37 with 30 seconds remaining in the game. Not in the first half, but in the game. Yes, it was that kind of game.

Once again, the ball was in Shaver’s hands, and he went in and lifted the Broncos to a 42-37 victory.

“To score 42 points and win, I thought was inconceivable,” Rice told Bronco Nation News. “It’s amazing.”

Boise State sits at 7th in KenPom’s defensive efficiency rating. The only other mid-major program in the top 15 is San Diego State in first.

After the Broncos handed Wyoming its only Mountain West loss of the season 65-62, Shaver delivered once again to help Boise State to a 68-63 overtime victory against Fresno State.

It was back and forth throughout, and Fresno held a 53-50 lead with less than 15 seconds left. Shaver missed the game-tying three with 4.9 seconds remaining, ran to the loose ball, hit it off a Fresno defender, and gave the Broncos the ball back in one of the gutsiest plays a player can have. He followed that up with a three on the inbounds, and the rest was history. Boise State won that one in overtime to seal the school’s longest win-streak ever at 14 games.

“The crazy thing about it is they’ve all ended like that,” Rice said.

The win streak ended as Wyoming got revenge on the Broncos 72-65 on Feb. 3. The result pulled them even atop the conference standings with one loss. The Broncos got back in the win column with a 16-point victory over San Jose State Saturday.