Boise State hoops: Leon Rice’s 10th anniversary

His hair was darker, and his son Max was in 4th grade. It was 10 years ago today that longtime Gonzaga assistant Leon Rice was introduced as Boise State’s seventh men’s basketball coach. Rice had been part of 11 straight NCAA Tournaments with the Zags staff, including four Sweet Sixteens. He was assigned with building consistency with the Broncos, both on the court (BSU had four winning seasons and four losing ones under Greg Graham), and in the stands (Boise State averaged just 3,061 fans a game in the season that had just ended, a record low in what is now ExtraMile Arena). While Rice has taken the Broncos to only two NCAA Tournaments, he has been consistent, averaging 20 wins per season.


Today we zero in on four of the highlight moments under Rice. This one is just two months old: one of the most improbable and exciting comebacks in Boise State hoops history, as the Broncos rallied from 18 points down with just over four minutes to go to defeat Utah State 88-83 in overtime. True freshman RayJ Dennis started the game but didn’t score until 3:36 remained. Then, after a chunk of the crowd had left, Dennis put up 19 points the rest of the way in regulation. With Boise State trailing 75-70, he drained a three-pointer with four seconds left—then Justinian Jessup stole the Aggies’ inbound pass and laid it in to send it into OT. The Broncos took their first lead of the game early in the extra period and didn’t look back.


Rice has been known for developing players, and in January of 2018 he saw the fruits of his labor. Chandler Hutchison broke a 47-year-old Boise State record with 44 points in an 83-80 win over San Diego State at sold-out ExtraMile Arena. Hutchison scored the Broncos’ first 16 points of the game, had 25 at halftime, tied the record on the last of his seven three-pointers with four minutes left and broke it on a couple of crucial free throws with 15 seconds remaining. His point total was the fifth-highest in Mountain West history. Earlier in the day, Rice had waded across the Boise River to fulfill a pledge he made to fans for packing the arena.


In February of 2016 came another one of the best late-game comebacks in Boise State history, as the Broncos rallied from a nine-point deficit with just over a minute left to defeat San Diego State 66-63 before a stunned sellout crowd in Viejas Arena. Six made free throws and two Nick Duncan three-pointers accounted for a 12-0 run to end it. The Aztecs had won 164 consecutive games when leading with five minutes to go, and they led at the five-minute mark in this one. It was one of the most amazing streaks in sports, and it had lasted more than six years.


This is the best win, though. In November of 2012, early in Rice’s third season, Boise State recorded perhaps the biggest basketball victory in school history, upsetting No. 11 Creighton in Omaha 83-70. Sophomore Derrick Marks poured in 35 points, 28 of them after halftime, and scored 18 consecutive Broncos points during one stretch in the second half. The Broncos won a road game over a Top 25 team for only the second time ever. The Bluejays were also the highest-ranked team—home or away—Boise State had ever defeated.


It was not your typical press conference—it was a Zoom meeting Wednesday with coach Bryan Harsin, speaking for the first time since spring football was scrapped. Harsin confirmed what had been a foregone conclusion: the Spring Game will not happen. He had been looking forward to some key up-and-comers taking full advantage of spring ball opportunities. “They could have really used those reps,” said Harsin, specifically mentioning sophomore offensive linemen Garrett Curran and Kekaniokoa Holomalia-Gonzalez and defensive tackle Scott Matlock. Harsin added something that goes for all Broncos: “They’re going to have to do a lot of things on their own right now to be ready.” Fall camp is going to be busy and intense.

This Day In Sports…brought to you by VETERANS PLUMBING…eliminate your drips and drops!

March 26, 1960: The birthday of one of those great USC running backs, Marcus Allen. He was also a great NFL running back, the first one ever to reach 10,000 rushing yards and 5,000 receiving yards in his career, which spanned 16 seasons with the L.A. Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs. As a Trojan, Allen rushed for 2,342 yards during his senior year in 1981. He’s the only player ever to win a Heisman Trophy, an NCAA national championship, a Super Bowl, an NFL Most Valuable Player award and a Super Bowl MVP honor. Marcus Allen…60 years old today.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 FM KTIK. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)

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