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‘We fought to be in this position.’ Boise State rolls San Jose State as MW race heats up

RJ Keene II went a stretch of six games this season without setting foot on the floor for the Boise State men’s basketball team.

But the redshirt sophomore guard from The Woodlands, Texas, never let the lack of playing time get him down.

Keene was ready when his number was called Tuesday night, leading a standout effort by the Boise State bench in an 82-50 victory over San Jose State at ExtraMile Arena. The Broncos’ reserves contributed 23 points, their most in a Mountain West game this season.

“He’s just been a grinder. He’s not, not playing because he’s not good enough. It’s just the guys in front of him have been playing really good,” Boise State coach Leon Rice said of Keene. “… I’m just so proud of the way he shows up every day and works with a positive attitude.

“It’d be easy to feel sorry for yourself. It’s hard not to play. All these guys want to play.”

Keene finished with five points, five rebounds, one assist and one steal in just under 14 minutes of action. He has now played in three straight conference games as Rice looks to build depth heading into the final stretch of the regular season.

“It’s just making sure you stay focused,” Keene said. “I mean, I called my family every day, and that kind of helped me get through all this. And Leon just emphasizes to me, ‘Stay ready. Stay ready.’ After every game I feel like he was coming to me saying, ‘I was gonna put you in.’ But it’s mainly just having that focus on when your name is called, just be 100 percent ready and give your team your all.”

With the game tied at 8-8 with 14:19 on the clock in the first half, Boise State (18-8, 9-4) went on a 17-2 run to pull away from the Spartans (9-17, 2-11). Keene scored all five of his points during that stretch, scoring on a layup off a steal and then knocking down a 3-pointer.

The Broncos held the Spartans to just six field goals in first half — including a span of more than 7 minutes without a field goal — and led 38-16 at the break. Boise State led by 20 or more points for the final 22:34 of the game.

“Obviously it’s good for metrics, but you can’t take these games for granted. These are really good teams,” Boise State senior Chibuzo Agbo said. “Good teams can lose these games any night of the week in the Mountain West, so I’m just glad to get it done.”

Agbo was one of four Broncos to score in double figures against San Jose State, totaling 14 points on 5-for-10 shooting, including a 4-for-7 performance from 3-point range. Junior Tyson Degenhart had 15 points and eight rebounds, sixth-year senior Max Rice chipped in 14 points, and junior O’Mar Stanley added 10 points and eight boards.

The win keeps Boise State a half-game behind Utah State — a 68-63 winner over No. 19 San Diego State on Tuesday — in the race for the Mountain West regular-season title.

With five games remaining, the Broncos continue conference play with back-to-back road games. Boise State faces Wyoming (13-13, 6-7) on Saturday (5:30 p.m., MWN) and then heads to Colorado to take on last-place Air Force (8-16, 1-11) on Tuesday (7 p.m., MWN).

“That’s where you want to be, and we fought to be in this position,” Leon Rice said. “A lot of grinding and a lot of great wins. When you think about who we’ve beaten, there’s a lot of impressive victories in that group.”