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What goes up, must come down

Fresno State falls on Senior Night, 78-68

NCAA Basketball: Colorado State at Fresno State Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Well, that was nice while it lasted. Fresno State’s 5 game winning streak came to a rather abrupt end against Wyoming last night. After outscoring their last 5 opponents by at least 13 points, the Bulldogs lost by 10 points to the Cowboys, and the game wasn’t really that close after the first few minutes. On what was supposed to be a night of celebration for the 4 seniors on the roster became a night of frustration and missed shots. The 4 seniors would combine for 27 points, but only Jahmel Taylor and Ray Bowles found their way onto the stat sheet tonight.

The biggest loss for the Bulldogs was star guard Jaron Hopkins, who left the game halfway though the first half with an ankle injury. It looks as of now that it was just a badly rolled ankle and nothing worse, which is good news for the upcoming conference tournament. After averaging 17.6 points per game, Hopkins would leave tonight’s game with 0, and missed all four of his shots.

The other biggest problem tonight for Fresno State was the lack of defense. Defense has been the name of the game during their win streak, but it was nowhere to be found tonight. After averaging 5 blocks per game, and 6.5 steals during their streak, they only had 1 block, and 4 steals on the night. They also gave up 15 more points than normal tonight, letting Wyoming shoot almost 50% on the night. Pretty hard to win a game where the other team shoots 50%, unless you’re going to win in a track meet.

For all of the problems the Bulldogs had tonight, Wyoming’s Justin James had a phenomenal game, and was the star of the show from the tip. He threw down 26 points on the night on 62% shooting. Talk about a great night for the junior, and a big turnaround from the last time he played Fresno State, where he only added in 9 points. He led all shooters on the night except for made 3 pointers, where he tied with Jahmel Taylor with 4. Hayden Dalton had a good night for himself, as he hit his season averages in pretty much all categories, and became a strong presence under the rim tonight.

From the beginning of tonight’s game, Fresno State just could never get into a rhythm offensively. The first five minutes of the game had the general slow start that marked the Dogs during their win streak, but they never got hot at any point on the night. Any sort of run that they would go on was immediately stifled out by poor shot selection, turnovers, and strong Wyoming defense. As soon as Jaron Hopkins left the game at the 7 minute mark in the first half, it was all about the Cowboys the rest of the way. Wyoming would build a huge 17 point lead going into the half as the Bulldogs looked gassed already, and had burned through most of their timeouts. For a normally even keeled Fresno State team, this game was definitely an abberation for them.

As the second half started though, it almost looked like Fresno State was waking back up, as they went on a 10-0 run after the break. Unfortunately, that 7 point margin would pretty much be the closest the Dogs would get down the stretch. In what would almost be a hallmark of the game, after each of these spurts from Fresno State, Justin James would answer with a shot to quickly quiet the crowd down. I’m sure the Fresno State players weren’t used to playing in front of so many people at the Save Mart Center, maybe that’s what caused them to play so off tonight. It’s just a theory, so you never know.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about the great defensive showing from Aaron Herndon tonight. Any time the Bulldogs tried to push the ball inside, Herndon was right there to block their shot, or force the ball back outside. All by himself, he had as many blocks as the entire Fresno State team, and pitched in 2 more steals in an awesome defensive night for the big man. The height advantage completely negated the normal size advantage that Terrell Carter II would normally have inside. This was perfectly illustrated when a Deshon Taylor pass in to Carter on the generally weak side of the rim was deflected deep into the third row by Herndon. It was tough to figure out why they’d send the ball to the weak side, until we saw that they tried to get around Herndon. Unfortunately for the Dogs, he’s a fast player under the rim, and was able to completely neutralize the play.

As the game went on, any chance Fresno State had at making a comeback was stopped by being completely out of timeouts with 6 minutes of the second half. Normally, Rodney Terry is great about time management in the game, but they had to burn those timeouts to try to get the team back in rhythm. As the final score would indicate, it was a futile effort, but you’ve gotta try if you’re the coach. Just meant there was no chance to set anything up unless Wyoming calls timeout, or there’s a commercial break to help you out.

After tonight’s results, Fresno State (20-9, 10-6) holds onto 3rd place, but are now only a half game above New Mexico (15-14, 9-6), with two games remaining. Wyoming (18-11, 9-7) now moves into a tie for the all important 5th place seeding with SDSU (17-10, 9-7). Wyoming has games coming up against Air Force and Boise State, while SDSU has to face both Boise State and #20 Nevada. It would appear the Cowboys have the easier path to the 5th seed in the conference tournament, but college basketball in March is always a wild place. The Cowboys will head back home to Laramie to take over Air Force Wednesday, while Fresno State will travel to Colorado Springs Monday to play the Air Force Falcons. It will be a quick turnaround for both the Falcons and the Bulldogs, as they have to play a makeup game from the government shutdown earlier this year.