The bench didn’t duck its duty

Boise State coach Leon Rice has been tinkering all season with his lineup and his bench makeup. Boise State coach Leon Rice has been tinkering all season with his lineup and his bench makeup. Maybe it’s turned the corner now after the Broncos held off No. 24 Oregon 74-72 in a raucous atmosphere attended by 10,239 Saturday evening in Taco Bell Arena. Guard Chandler Hutchison, who alternates between starter and reserve, was sure good off the bench against the Ducks, denying a three-point attempt on the game’s final play, less than two minutes after he scored the Broncos’ final points of the game on a clutch put-back.

Forward Zach Haney keyed Boise State’s 30-7 run that ended the first half, when—halfway through the surge—he snagged a steal in between three Ducks near midcourt. Less than a minute later Haney canned a corner three-pointer that gave the Broncos their first double-digit lead. Rice may have found his big-man bench catalyst. Haney’s effort was contagious. “I credit our bench for changing that game in the first half, and then we played a great stretch of basketball there for a long time,” said Rice. Hutchison scored eight points with seven rebounds in 27 minutes, while Haney contributed seven points and four rebounds in 19 minutes.

Then there was Boise State senior Anthony Drmic, one of the centerpieces of the team. He gutted out 19 points but his still-healing leg had him exhausted toward the end of the game. Maybe that explains Drmic‘s two missed free throws and two turnovers in the frantic final three minutes. Fellow senior Mikey Thompson also turned the ball over in that stretch. But there were no excuses from Drmic, who tweeted out an apology after the game. “We’re two senior leaders, and we can’t finish the game like that,” said Drmic in the postgame presser. “We got to put it away at the free throw line and taking care of the ball. Yeah, I’m sorry.” That coming from a guy who just moved into the top five in Boise State career scoring.

Turnovers were an interesting animal Saturday. Other than the three aforementioned miscues at the end, Boise State turned the ball over only six times. The one thing that stood out, even during the tough stretch early when the Broncos fell behind 21-11, was that they were taking care of the ball. At the other end, Oregon was playing cleanly, too, committing only 11 turnovers. But Boise State pounced, scoring 20 points off of them. That was a difference-maker in the Broncos’ first home victory over a ranked team since a WAC triumph over No. 21 Utah State in 2009.

Is there a clone of Jeremy McNichols awaiting Boise State at the Poinsettia Bowl next week? Well, kind of. Northern Illinois running back Joel Bouagnon has rushing numbers remarkably similar to those of McNichols. Bouagnon has 1,269 yards, 25 more than McWeapon, and 18 touchdowns on the ground, the same as McNichols. The Boise State sophomore averages one more yard per carry, 5.6 to 4.6 (TD runs of 83 and 88 yards certainly help). It’s in the passing game where McNichols separates. Bouagnon has 13 catches for 131 yards this season. McNichols has 46 receptions for 364 yards and an additional five touchdowns.

Darian Thompson’s second All-America recognition of the year is better than the first. After getting an honorable mention from Sports Illustrated last week, Boise State’s star senior safety has been named a third-team AP All-American. Last year Thompson was tabbed a second-teamer by CBSSports.com. The only other Bronco to earn FBS All-America honors in back-to-back seasons was cornerback Kyle Wilson, now a New Orleans Saint.

The story by CBSSports.com’s Dennis Dodd Friday on rumblings of Mountain West expansion is just that: rumblings. But it does get the water cooler talk going. The two targeted schools would supposedly be UTEP and Rice. UTEP would make a lot of sense (if expansion made sense). It was aligned with all of the universities in the Mountain West at one time or another through its 38-year stay in the WAC. And in football, the Miners continue to get solid fan support despite their very uneven performances on the field. Rice, on the other hand, would be a reach. Sure, the Mountain West presidents would love to include one of the nation’s top academic institutions. But Rice is on the other side of the state from UTEP, as is everything else in Texas. It would just be a thinly-veiled attempt to attach the Houston TV market, where Rice has very little athletic foothold.

Dodd’s story mentioned that Mountain West presidents are said to be “fractioned” in their atttitudes toward BYU and its possible return to the conference. Why wouldn’t they take the Cougars back in a heartbeat? Is there still some bitterness over BYU’s departure in 2011? It’s a program with a national brand that can regularly attract 60,000 fans in football and 20,000 in basketball. It’s not up to the MW presidents—the ball has always been in BYU’s court. I have thoughts on another school mentioned by Dodd. I’ll save that for tomorrow.

One positive coming out of the previous 18 years of what is now the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl is the individual talent fans have been able to see. There have been 19 first-round draft picks who have played in the game—the most recent was Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack two years ago. Yesterday Mack tied an Oakland Raiders franchise record with five sacks in a 15-12 win at Denver. The mark was originally set by Howie Long when the Raiders were in L.A. (where they may be again soon before too long). Next week the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl gets Akron’s Jatavis Brown, another elite linebacker. Brown, like Mack did in 2013, comes to Boise as the MAC Defensive Player of the Year.

The Idaho Steelheads have won back-to-back games for the first time since the beginning of November, taking decisions by counts of 4-2 Friday night at Tulsa and 3-2 in overtime yesterday at Allen. The Sunday matinee saw the Steelheads outshoot the Americans 14-1 in the first period and forge the early lead with a power play goal from Emil Molin. Idaho then won it with 1:36 left in the OT on a tally by Cole Ully, his first as a Steelhead. Friday night the Steelies faced a 2-1 deficit 46 seconds into the second period but shut the Oilers down from there. Goalies Maxime Lagace and Philippe Desrosiers each picked up a victory over the weekend.

It was only a 12-point win, but it was the biggest victory margin of the season so far for the Idaho Stampede. The Stampede dropped Bakersfield 100-88 in CenturyLink Arena Saturday night behind 26 points from Jeff Ayres and his 7-for-7 shooting performance from the field. Former Duke star Tyus Jones added 22 points for the Stamps, who fell to the Jam 103-92 Friday night. Oregon coach Dana Altman was in the audience for that one to watch former Duck E.J. Singler. But Singler played only four minutes and went 0-for-4. Also, the Stampede has signed Bryce DeJean-Jones. Local fans may remember DeJean-Jones from his UNLV days from 2012-14. He began his career at USC before joining the Rebels—then transferred to Iowa State to finish his college career last season.

This Day In Sports…December 14, 1995, 20 years ago today:

Nevada plays in the first overtime game in Division I-A history, falling to Toledo in the Las Vegas Bowl, 40-37. Overtime was instituted at college football’s highest level for the 1995 bowl season, then became standard during the 1996 regular season. But it wasn’t the Wolf Pack’s first foray into overtime, which had been played at the lower levels since the late 1980’s. In fact, two of Nevada’s games in the 1990 Division I-AA playoffs went three overtimes, including the classic in the semi-finals that ended in a 59-52 victory over Boise State.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment Sunday nights at 10:30PM on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 The Ticket. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)