#rushthetrip Day Eight: In Every Regard, Boise State’s Potential On Full DisplayPosted by Bennet Hayes on February 13th, 2014
RTC columnist Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) is looking for the spirit of college basketball as he works his way on a two-week tour of various venues around the West. For more about his trip, including his itinerary and previous stops on his journey, check out the complete series here.
It’s been a tough year on the hardwood in Boise. A series of close defeats – many littered with critical late-game Bronco mistakes – has derailed a season that began with unusually high expectations. As protectors of the famed blue turf, the Boise faithful aren’t strangers to their school beginning an athletic season with grand aspirations, but rarely has such hope accompanied the basketball program. When I planned my trip a month ago, Wednesday’s matchup with New Mexico looked to have both MW title and NCAA Tournament implications. Unfortunately, upon arrival at Taco Bell Arena last night, said implications existed only for the visiting Lobos.
I should admit here to being a Boise apologist. I have long been fascinated with the school’s football program (like many across the country), and was also probably higher than most on the potential for this year’s basketball team. Leon Rice has the program heading in the right direction, and it seemed possible that the football team’s success could help propel the basketball team into a more regular relationship with the Big Dance. But for now, that notion remains a fantasy. The Broncos have never won an NCAA Tournament game (San Jose State is the only other MW team to share this distinction), and rarely (if ever) generate the fan support to sell out the 13,000 seat Taco Bell Arena.
The Bronco team that had the power to change both those ignominious facts finally finished the job against New Mexico last night. Boise weathered an explosive offensive first half from the Lobos, and on the back of four huge Thomas Bropleh threes in the second period, navigated their way back into a game they had trailed by twelve at intermission. The recipe had created more heartbreak than success this season, but when crunch time came around, Leon Rice wasn’t afraid to put the ball back in the hands of Derrick Marks. Down one with twenty ticks to play, Marks would finally deliver on his coach’s confidence. The mercurial junior guard attacked the rim and drew a foul; he converted both free throws, points that would prove to be the final differentiator after Hugh Greenwood back-rimmed a jumper on New Mexico’s final possession. It wasn’t easy, but Boise had snapped a three-game losing streak, earned the best win of their season, and reminded the MW why they were predicted to finish second in the league.
Taco Bell Arena was only about half-full, but the Big Taco supplied a better-than-advertised atmosphere. Those that did brave the rainy Boise evening to make it to campus were rarely fans of the officiating, and they let it be known with a fervor that hardly fit the profile of a fan base supporting a program without an NCAA Tournament victory to their name. Remnants of the support for the football program were everywhere, from the student section’s choreographed chants and the impressive band, to the familiar blue and orange covering that enveloped the lower bowl – despite instructions for a “black-out.” Given the noise last night, I’d imagine the Big Taco could get very loud if ever full, and the relative verticality of the triple-deck structure keeps everyone close to the action.
Nearly a quarter-million people populate Boise, the football team has now sold out every game in six of the last seven seasons (37,000 strong), and the beautiful city downtown (has to be underrated when discussing America’s best college towns) is but a walk from Taco Bell Arena. Building a program is never an easy task, but Leon Rice has a lot working in his favor. This year’s team has likely lost its chance to be the first to fully capture the imagination of the town, but last night’s stirring victory surely hinted at better days to come for Boise State basketball.
Up Next: Gonzaga.