Fresno State (18-8, 8-5 MWC) returned home to the Save Mart Center at just the right time. The Dogs easily took down SJSU on Wednesday, and had a home date against a reeling Colorado State (11-16, 4-10 MWC) waiting.
For anyone looking at just the final score, they’d be very surprised to find out that this game was very close for the first 10 minutes. CSU came out shooting very well, and were going shot for shot with the fast-paced Bulldogs. Past that point though, it was a solidly Bulldog affair. What was a 12-12 game at the 10:00 mark turned quickly into a 35-24 halftime spread. That 11 point difference would be the closest the Rams would get for the rest of the game, as the Dogs went into cruise control in the 2nd half.
For the Rams, the biggest problem today was the sudden disappearance of Prentiss Nixon. We all know that everyone has off-days, but this was a shocking day for Nixon. On a normal day, Nixon is good for around 16 PPG on 65% shooting, leading the Rams in scoring. Today, Nixon went 0-9 from the floor, and did not tally a single point. This will definitely be a day to forget for Nixon and the Rams, and not what we’re used to seeing out of the talented player.
What Nixon’s off-day did mean for CSU was that other players would have to rise to the occasion, and they did an admirable job of it. Che Bob led the way for the Rams with 15 points today, with Nico Carvacho right behind him at 14. Anthony Bonner kicked in a clean dozen points off the bench in the second half, but it was too little, too late by that point. The Rams as a whole would shoot 43% from the field, but a rather poor 20% from outside the arc
On the flip side, Fresno State have been getting hot at just the right time in conference play. This was their 4th straight game with an at least 18 point Margin of Victory, (Wyoming, SDSU, SJSU, CSU), and came behind another day of 50+% shooting from the floor. What was different about today was that the top bench performer for the Dogs was Terrell Carter instead of Nate Grimes. Carter used his great size advantage to work the inside all afternoon, dropping in 11 points and 4 rebounds on the day. 6 different Bulldogs scored in double digits today, and Bryson Williams came oh so close to a double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds to lead all players in scoring. Jaron Hopkins and Deshon Taylor continued being one of the best 1-2 punches in the conferences by combining for 25 points on 78% shooting.
Fresno State shot a very strong 55% from the floor, and over 40% from outside the arc. The inside out offense proved to be incredibly powerful for the Dogs, as the Rams could not make adjustments for the fake drive in the paint. Having a big man inside like Carter allowed the Dogs to draw the Rams defense in, leaving Hopkins and Jahmel Taylor wide open on the outside most of the game.
In the second half of the game, the Dogs started off on their same frenetic pace, and were able to neutralize the Ram’s half court game. For some reason, the Rams were having good success running a full court offense in the first half of the game, but shrunk down into a half court game in the second half. That allowed Fresno State to really pare back their defense, and slow down the Rams.
For the first 10 minutes of the second half, the game was still close enough that a 6-0 Rams run really brought them into the game, but that seemed like the last gasp of their offense. There was also an incredibly strange sequence around a shot clock violation and a lay-up from the Rams. Multiple replays showed that the ball may have hit the rim, but that the lay-up from James was after the clock had expired. After an eternity of stoppage, the Rams were awarded the two points, and the game continued on. If that shot ended up being the difference in the game, I’m sure there would have been a whole lot of arguments in both directions about the call. The whole concept of replay review in college basketball is something that should be talked about, but that is a post for another day. Especially when they take 10 minutes, and completely ruin the game flow.
Towards the end of the half, as Fresno State pulled away from the Rams, they were able to get surprisingly deep into the bench. New Williams, Johnny McWilliams, Lozaro Rojas, Myles Fitzgerald-Warren, and Gilles Dekoninick all got playing time down the stretch for the Bulldogs. It is important for these players to get minutes, as the Dogs are a senior-heavy team this year. They will be losing Carter, Jahmel Taylor, Jaron Hopkins, and Ray Bowles after this season, so will need to make sure that replacements are ready to go for next year. The five years of the Terry era in Fresno have been marked by transfers coming in, and an ability to reload every year. Getting all of the younger players experience will mean that it’s easier to perform that reload each season.
The Dogs ended up salting the game away in the last five minutes, and ended up defeating the Rams 86-65. Fresno State will head to the Thomas & Mack Center next Wednesday to play UNLV for control of 3rd place in the conference. Colorado State will return home to Ft. Collins next Wednesday to take on the 2nd place Boise State Broncos.