The free-throw line has been a source of consternation for the Boise State men’s basketball team this season.
But the Broncos may have finally put their free-throw woes behind them.
Boise State made 9-of-10 from the line in the final 1:11 — and 18-of-21 overall — to hold off Washington State 58-52 and earn a Quadrant 1 victory Wednesday at Spokane Arena in Spokane, Washington.
It is the sixth straight victory for the Broncos (9-4), who will have the rest of the week off for Christmas break before opening Mountain West play at home next week against Fresno State.
“It’s been a great month for us. That’s six in a row, and we’ve had to work for every one of them in different ways and win them in different ways,” Boise State coach Leon Rice said. “We’re showing some versatility and an ability to win some close games, and that’s what you have to do to be there in the end. It’s the ones that can win those games that are gonna be left standing.”
The Broncos are 6-0 in the month of December, with their most recent defeat coming against Saint Louis, 86-82 in overtime on Nov. 30, in a game in which they went just 12-for-26 (46.2%) from the charity stripe.
Tuesday’s performance demonstrates just how far the Broncos have come in a little more than three weeks, which happens to coincide with Rice’s decision to insert freshman Tyson Degenhart into the starting lineup in place of redshirt senior Devonaire Doutrive, who has since left the team.
“We feel like we’re getting better. We know we’re doing some really, really positive things,” Rice said. “But you want those to show up in wins, and they have been. Credit to all these guys for believing and staying together. Our chemistry is really, really good now, and I just love the way that these guys are making each other better.”
Boise State made just 6-of-24 shots (25%) in the first half and trailed Washington State 24-19 at the break. The last time the Broncos had fewer than 20 points at halftime, they ended up shooting a program-worst 22.4% from the floor in a 46-39 loss to Cal State Bakersfield. Wednesday was a very different story.
Instead of getting frustrated, the Broncos hit the offensive glass and got more aggressive, which resulted in a shooting percentage of 46.2%, 10 second-chance points and a 13-for-15 performance at the line over the final 20 minutes.
Boise State entered the game as one of the worst free-throw shooting teams in the country, at 58.2%, according to KenPom.com. Fifth-year senior Abu Kigab had endured his share of difficulty at the line, making just 57.6%. But Kigab and the Broncos redeemed themselves against the Cougars (8-5) by shooting 85.7%. Kigab alone went 9-for-11, highlighted by a 6-for-6 clip down the stretch, to finish with a game-leading 19 points, five rebounds, two steals and one assist.
“We’ve been working pretty hard on our free throws, and that showed up,” Rice said. “You don’t win that game if you don’t do that. That decides a lot of close games, and that guy (Kigab) sitting on my left today did a good job of that. We kept calling his number because he had that look, and when he gets that look, I know it’s pretty hard to stop him.”
Degenhart continued his streak of seven consecutive double-digit scoring games with 11 points, seven of which came over the final 4 minutes of play. His 3-pointer with 2:03 on the clock turned the Broncos’ one-point lead into a 49-45 advantage.
“It’s definitely a huge moment. I hadn’t really made a shot coming into that moment, but I trusted my work I put in through the summer and throughout the season,” Degenhart said. “It fell and it was a great feeling to have that shot go down. It was a super special moment. That’s something I am never gonna forget for the rest of my life.”
Marcus Shaver Jr. added 15 points and six rebounds for the Broncos, and Naje Smith contributed six points and four rebounds off the bench in place of Mladen Armus, who was limited to just 13 minutes because of foul trouble.
Boise State held Washington State to a season-low 30.5% shooting and its second-fewest points.
“I think, me personally, I’ve gotten a little more comfortable with the kind of team I have,” Rice said. “We’re really good defensively, and sometimes I have to just be comfortable winning our games on defense.
“We did some good things offensively in the second half, but it was the persistence and weathering the storm and just knowing that we could get that done in the second half.”
Boise State opens league action Tuesday against Fresno State. Tipoff is 7 p.m. at ExtraMile Arena, and the game will be streamed live on Stadium, which is available online at watchstadium.com.
BOISE ST. 58, WASHINGTON ST. 52
WASHINGTON ST. (8-5): Gueye 1-4 1-2 3, Jackson 1-3 1-4 3, Bamba 0-4 0-0 0, Flowers 2-10 2-2 8, Williams 5-16 0-0 11, Jakimovski 4-6 2-3 11, Roberts 5-16 3-4 16, Rodman 0-0 0-0 0, Abogidi 0-0 0-0 0, Koulibaly 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 18-59 9-15 52.
BOISE ST. (9-4): Armus 0-1 0-0 0, Degenhart 3-10 4-4 11, Kigab 5-11 9-11 19, Akot 3-9 0-0 7, Shaver 5-11 3-4 15, N.Smith 2-5 2-2 6, Ma.Rice 0-2 0-0 0, Milner 0-0 0-0 0, Kuzmanovic 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 18-50 18-21 58.
Halftime—Washington St. 24-19. 3-Point Goals—Washington St. 7-24 (Roberts 3-10, Flowers 2-6, Jakimovski 1-2, Williams 1-4, Bamba 0-1, Gueye 0-1), Boise St. 4-16 (Shaver 2-5, Akot 1-3, Degenhart 1-4, Kuzmanovic 0-1, N.Smith 0-1, Ma.Rice 0-2). Fouled Out—Gueye, Bamba, Rodman. Rebounds—Washington St. 37 (Jakimovski 12), Boise St. 34 (Armus, Degenhart, Shaver 6). Assists—Washington St. 5 (Jakimovski 3), Boise St. 4 (Kigab, Akot, Ma.Rice, Kuzmanovic 1). Total Fouls—Washington St. 24, Boise St. 17. A—4,018 (12,210).
This story was originally published December 22, 2021 8:17 PM.