By Mike Prater / Bronco Nation News / Max Rice Photo: Courtesy Boise State Athletics

It’s one of my all-time favorite stories, a story worth sharing over and over.

Especially now.

In case you haven’t heard, as the story goes, told by the man himself, Boise State basketball coach Leon Rice once shot himself. As a child of the 1970s in Richland, Washington, he somehow turned a collection of curious friends, large rocks and a .22 bullet into a bloody knee.

His mother, a nurse, stuffed a belt in little Leon’s mouth and cleaned up the mess herself. Rub some dirt on it, son, it’ll be just fine.

Rice has been one tough dude ever since – and demands toughness from his teams.

Rice’s son, Max, might be even tougher. Quick, find me another Boise State athlete with more grit, more resilience, a more impressive bounce-back and a bigger heart on his sleeve than that of Max Rice.

Good luck!

Holy Gladiator tough guy, did you see what happened Wednesday night in Albuquerque?

The Broncos, beaten up after a couple of hard losses, led by Max, beaten up after a few hard games, shocked 19th-ranked New Mexico 86-78 in one of the most important wins of the Leon Rice era. The Lobos were 11.5-point favorites, undefeated in 11 home games this season, and hadn’t lost in The Pit in 11 months.

No. 12 saved the season – or at least rekindled the momentum needed for the final month of a regular season that was losing steam. Until now.

Boise State came into the night with only three road wins, all-time, against ranked opponents. Make it four.

“A special one,’’ Leon said post-game.

Max, a sixth-year senior who has turned every season into a magical roller-coaster ride, who has toyed with our emotions since the day he stepped on campus, who is the Brett Favre of Boise State hoops, had been in one of the worst shooting slumps in all of college basketball: In Mountain West play, before Wednesday, Max had missed 55-of-77 field goal shots, and 31-of-43 attempts from 3-point range.

The fans were frustrated.

The media took jabs, myself included. No need for Max to shoot more, I thought.

Social media was, well, social media. Anonymously brutal.

Against the Lobos, Slumping Max turned into Mad Max: A career-high 35 points on 12-of-20 shooting with a career-high seven 3-pointers. He added five rebounds, a couple of steals and court leadership that will never show up in a stat book.

One of his first shots was an airball. Boise State fell behind 10-2. New Mexico fans, naturally, rabidly, turned both into a short-lived party before Max turned the entire night into his own personal FU.

Max played with moxie, confidence and brilliance. He took more smart shots than usual – and even made the ones that looked sloppy. It was one of those nights that we’ll never forget, kind of like his 26-point Broadway play against San Diego State at home last season.

Only this was better.

And much-needed.

Boise State was the tougher team – outrebounding New Mexico 41-33 and even handling the press late in the game.

Leon was the tougher coach. What do you expect from someone who works out Every. Single. Day.

Max was the toughest player – and his toughness turned into one glorious night of poetry in motion for the entire team.

O’Mar Stanley was a beast (12 points and 14 boards), Jace Whiting was efficient (team-high plus-12 rating), Chibuzo Abo added 16 points, Cam Martin had a monster dunk to help fuel a 14-0 run, and suddenly star player Tyson Degenhart is no longer the alpha male on this roster. A good problem to have.

Boise State, with a home game against Air Force on Saturday, is back in business with a 6-2 Mountain West record. The Broncos sit in second place and will be rewarded with a big bump in the metrics and computer games that are so critical in college basketball.

It doesn’t matter that Boise State plays at Colorado State and Utah State next week. Two likely losses. Until Wednesday. Now? Who knows what this team is capable of doing between now and mid-March.

The ultimate goal – the real tough part of this season – remains an NCAA Tournament win. For now, let’s enjoy the Max Rice Night of Glory for the next few days.

He deserves the love after proving one thing in Albuquerque: Never doubt his role on this team.

Boise State, as a whole, proved another point before flying home in the middle of the night: Never doubt the toughness of a Leon Rice basketball team.

Mike Prater is the Bronco Nation News columnist who co-hosts Idaho Sports Talk (KTIK 95.3 FM on Monday-Friday from 3-6 p.m.) and the Boise State football postgame show (KBOI 670 AM). He is on Twitter @MikeFPrater and can be reached at [email protected]