Many a soul has experienced a miserable night in Las Vegas, the kind of night when nothing is redeemable and everything must start from scratch.
The Boise State Broncos know the feeling.
Weeks ago, Boise State lost a game at Colorado State. It should have been awarded a victory, but this shot by James Webb III was not allowed to stand:
The Mountain West office and on-court officials both deprived the Broncos of a victory. Yet, in the bigger picture, that game was not going to determine whether Boise State had a shot at the NCAA tournament.
The Broncos had already played their way out of at-large contention in a season which was supposed to deliver the goods… and accomplish what remained undone at the end of the 2015 campaign. Boise State made the First Four last season, but the joy of that accomplishment was once again reduced by the people in charge of an important event. Boise State wasn’t robbed of a victory on that occasion, but the odds were certainly stacked against the Broncos. They were forced to play the Dayton Flyers on their home floor, since the First Four is held in University of Dayton Arena. Boise State put up a good fight, but Dayton fed off the crowd in the game’s most defining moments.
The Broncos have never won an NCAA tournament game, and when they fell short against Dayton, every coach and player in the inner sanctum of the locker room knew what had to be done the following season.
Well, whatever needed to be done certainly didn’t get done.
With or without the Colorado State win in Fort Collins, Boise State would not have been anywhere close to an at-large bid this season. A season-opening loss at Montana didn’t help, but at the end of January, coach Leon Rice’s team had steadied the ship. Given how weak the Mountain West has been this season, Boise State expected to feast on the non-San Diego State portion of the conference and make the case for an at-large selection.
Then everything fell apart.
The Broncos lost to UNLV, New Mexico (at home), and Air Force in a four-game stretch. In two weeks, any notions of an at-large candidacy evaporated. The Colorado State loss generated legitimate controversy — BSU should have been awarded the game, plain and simple — but the bigger picture wouldn’t have changed for the Broncos. They had to capture the Mountain West Tournament to get into the NCAAs and win the first Dance game in school history.
Thursday, Boise State returned to the hardwood against the very same Colorado State squad which brought back painful memories of that controversial night in Fort Collins.
This was a natural spot for Boise State’s starting five — populated mostly by upperclassmen — to expunge that bitter recollection of the swindle in Moby Arena. Playing the final game of the day in UNLV’s Thomas and Mack Center, Boise State had a chance to move into a semifinal against second-seeded Fresno State. The Broncos, safely removed from San Diego State until the final, had the bracket set up the way they wanted.
They did, of course, need to play as though their season depended on the outcome of this game.
That is something the Broncos couldn’t manage to do.
If you’re angry about a previous injustice and determined to rescue a season which has not met your own internal standards, playing committed, determined defense is the best way to show how much you care.
Boise State’s defense got shredded by Colorado State. The Rams hit 13 of 29 threes and made 48 percent of their field goals despite the high volume of long-ball attempts. Colorado State produced a noticeably higher offensive rebound percentage in this game — 39 to 28 — and earned more free throws (29 to 25). Boise State did commit only six turnovers, indicating a clean offensive performance. However, the Broncos needed to get their hands dirty on defense, and they barely laid a finger on the hot-shooting Rams, failing to push CSU out of its comfort zone.
If you can’t defend, your offense needs to be special, but since Boise State hit only 7 of 24 triples, it didn’t have quite the firepower to keep up with Colorado State. The Broncos’ NCAA dreams died, 88-81, and now the NIT lies in their future… if they’re lucky.
There will be no first NCAA tournament win in school history. There will be no meeting on the mountaintop with San Diego State in the Mountain West final on Saturday. There will be no great sendoff for seniors Anthony Drmic and Mikey Thompson.
The past few years have broken some barriers at Boise State. The Broncos made the 2013 and 2015 NCAA Tournaments as an at-large selection, the first times in school history that’s happened. What remained, though, was for this veteran group to return to Bracketville and win a game, something this football school’s fan base has yet to experience.
Losing to San Diego State in Saturday’s final would have conferred pain and disappointment on the Broncos, but that would have been a different kind of gut punch. Not being able to strike back at Colorado State after the February firestorm which embarrassed the Mountain West Conference will linger in the minds of Boise State players. Not being able to defend the Rams and get out of the Mountain West quarterfinals will sit in Leon Rice’s stomach all offseason.
There’s just not anything Boise State can take away from this night in Vegas.
The Broncos had all the chips on the poker table… and they very truly lost everything.