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Boise State Is Ready To Ruin Someone’s Day

Max Rice dribbles
Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Max Rice didn't just win a critical basketball game for Boise State on Tuesday night—he also briefly went bowling, too. On a break in the middle of an electric comeback, Rice perfectly demonstrated how to pick up a 7-10 split, using a pair of defenders as pins. Once he cleared that space, he calmly fired the three that put his team permanently in the lead.

If you couldn't tell by the score and the opponent's ranking and the crowd's reaction, this was an important shot. But it was only one piece of a transcendent stretch for the tastiest name in college basketball—mmm, max rice—as he led his Broncos to a win that might lock them into a Tournament bid.

There's no better test for a Mountain West team than San Diego State. The Aztecs arrived in Idaho sporting a record of 14-2 in conference play, and they'd just shown how much they enjoy shutting up a raucous home crowd when Lamont Butler hit a buzzer-beating three to crush New Mexico at a sold-out Pit on Saturday. In their previous meeting with Boise, SDSU dominated bell to bell, leading 43-21 at the half and winning 72-52.

But the Broncos are no easy out either. Under the guidance of Max's dad, Leon Rice, who took over the job in 2010 after a decade spent helping build up Gonzaga as an assistant, Boise State has become a consistent 20-win program that is just aching for a breakout run in the NCAAs. From 1988 to 2008, BSU lost in the first round four times, all as a lowly 14 seed. Under Rice in 2013 and '15, they fell in the First Four. But last year, after doing the double in the MWC, winning the regular-season title for the second time and the conference tourney for the first, they got their most respectful seeding ever: eighth. Unfortunately for them, a very hot and very talented Memphis squad awaited them, and again the Broncos failed to earn their first tourney victory.

The 2022–23 Boise State season was by no means set to be a continuation of that success. Those Broncos were a veteran team, and only two of their five highest-usage players returned for this year. But particularly since the calendar turned over to January, these guys have melded into a dangerous foe. They're great perimeter defenders, holding opponents to just 30.2 percent from the arc. They're strong rebounders despite lacking a true big man. And they keep the other team off the free throw line, which is key because they don't have much depth if their starters go into foul trouble.

Though the turned-over Broncos stumbled out of the gates, losing two of their first three to South Dakota State and Charlotte, they've been nearly unstoppable in the new year, with their only regulation loss coming to the Aztecs. Marcus Shaver is the cornerstone, a point guard whose D-I days go all the way back to 2017. Tyson Degenhart, a talented sophomore from Spokane who's incredibly efficient in the low post, will become an awards-watch weapon if he gets just a little more accurate from long range. But nobody heats up quicker than Max Rice.

In the final home game of the season, and possibly his Boise career after four years at school, Rice added an indelible memory. SDSU did an expert job managing the pace of this one for the first 35 minutes, holding a slim lead and denying Boise State runs to prevent the crowd from really getting into it. They played a perfect road game, really, for those 35 minutes, and when they stretched their lead to 60-52 it looked like they were in total control. But then all of a sudden the Aztecs had no answers for Rice's magic.

To say Boise State imposed its will on the game during this 14-0 closeout is not quite accurate. Rice was responsible for 12 of those 14, including a free throw and that awesome shot way up top. Here's how he stumbled, hustled, and maneuvered his way into the other eight.

“Honestly, it’s kind of a blur to me at this point,” Rice said after the game. “Some of the plays just kind of like mesh together. Yeah, I banked one in I think at one point."

For a sports fan of a certain age, Boise State will always be associated with this kind of unexpected, thrilling late-game silliness. Granted, that's in football, but with something like a 10- or 11-seed in the cards, these Broncos too will get the chance to be an unpleasant surprise for a more established team. (Kentucky? Duke? Michigan State?) BSU men's basketball hasn't had its Fiesta Bowl moment, but they're going in the right direction.

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