First place in Mountain West at stake as Boise State hosts red-hot No. 18 Utah State

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The play that sealed Boise State’s win at Fresno State on Tuesday might be a perfect microcosm of the Broncos’ season.

Boise State led by 16 points in the second half, but the Bulldogs battled back to take a late lead.

Chibuzo Agbo missed a 3-pointer that would have put the Broncos back on top with 1:52 to play. A Fresno State player came down with the rebound, but Max Rice knocked the ball loose and point guard Roddie Anderson III found Agbo in the corner for a three that put the Broncos ahead for good in a 72-68 win.

Coach Leon Rice said the Broncos were tough enough to find a way to win when the odds got stacked against them.

That toughness was forged early in the season while the Broncos battled through a nonconference schedule that included losses to Clemson, Virginia Tech, Butler and Washington State, and a win over Saint Mary’s. It has been tested by a Mountain West slate that has included wins over then-No. 17 Colorado State, Nevada and San Diego State.

“We may not have played perfect, but we played hard for most of that game,” Rice said. “We’re proud of how those guys finished. That’s the difference between having a good season and having a great season.”

The Broncos (14-5, 5-1 Mountain West) hope to find a way to win again with No. 18 Utah State in town on Saturday (2 p.m., Mountain West Network). Sole possession of first place in the conference is on the line.

Utah State (17-2, 5-1), led by first-year coach Danny Sprinkle, has won 16 of its past 17 games, including a 77-72 upset of then-No. 13 Colorado State. The Aggies’ lone loss during that span was a 99-86 setback at New Mexico.

Utah State forward Great Osobor leads the Aggies with 18.7 points a game, and his 9.7 rebounds a night rank No. 1 in the Mountain West.
Utah State forward Great Osobor leads the Aggies with 18.7 points a game, and his 9.7 rebounds a night rank No. 1 in the Mountain West.

Agbo vs. Osobor

Rice said he sees a lot of similarities between the Broncos and Aggies.

“They’ve got a guy who has been putting up amazing numbers and has been a go-to guy that can make plays in biggest moments,” he said. “They’ve won close games, they’ve won with defense and with toughness. That’s a lot of same things you can say about our team.”

Agbo has been a consistent scoring threat for the Broncos. He ranks No. 2 on the team with 14.7 points a game, and he has scored at least 10 points in 13 straight games, including a season-high 27 against Western Oregon. The 6-foot-7 senior leads the team with 46 3-pointers and he’s shooting 48 percent from the floor.

“He’s gotten to be such good player that even on his off nights, he’s still putting up pretty good numbers,” Rice said. “He’s shown consistency, and that’s what great players do. You know what you’re going to get every night, in terms of effort and energy.”

Much of Utah State’s offense has run through 6-8, 250-pound wing Great Osobor. He leads the Mountain West with 9.7 rebounds a game, and his team-high 18.7-point average ranks No. 2 in the conference.

Osobor has scored at least 20 points in five of the Aggies’ past six, including a season-high 32 against Air Force. He also has nine double-doubles on his resume.

“He’s a monster in there,” Rice said. “He does it so many different ways. He’s great at drawing fouls and getting points at the foul line. He’s a great rebounder and has terrific hands. We’re going to have our hands full.”

The Broncos have fared well against the Mountain West’s top players this year. Last week, they held the conference’s top scorer, San Diego State’s Jaedon LeDee (20.9 points per game), to 13 points, which tied his season low. Boise State held Colorado State’s Isaiah Stevens to 15 points and forced him to cough up six turnovers in a 65-58 win on Jan. 9.

“We’ve got tough kids and we’ve just got to keep getting better at practice,” Rice said. “They’ve approached that the right way.”

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A rebuilt roster for Rams

Osobor is one of five new starters taking the floor this year for Sprinkle, who was hired after success at Montana State, including NCAA Tournament appearances in 2022 and ‘23. After former Utah State coach Ryan Odom left for VCU last March, all 10 players who scored for the Aggies last season either transferred or graduated.

Osobor spent two years at Montana State with Sprinkle before coming with him to Logan. Senior guard Ian Martinez (13.6 points per game) spent one season at Utah and two at Maryland before joining the Aggies.

Freshman Mason Falslev (11.6 ppg) redshirted last season at Utah State. Guard Darius Brown II (10.7 ppg) was the Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year at Montana State, and guard Josh Uduje (8.8 ppg) started 39 games for Coastal Carolina the past two seasons.

“(Sprinkle) walked into a room where he had zero points returning,” Rice said. “For him to put this team together the right way, it’s hard, but they found their identity, and they’ve gotten better and better as the year has gone on.”

Saturday’s game at ExtraMile Arena should be a heavyweight fight between two teams on their way to the NCAA Tournament. Utah State ranks No. 2 in the Mountain West with 82.1 points a game and a 50% field goal percentage. Boise State leads the conference in scoring defense, allowing just 65.1 points a game. The Aggies rank No. 4, allowing 68 points a night.