In the conference opener, the visiting Bulldogs (10-3, 1-0 MW) won convincingly over the Spartans (3-10, 0-1 MW) after San Jose put up a good fight in the first 15 minutes.
Like St. Mary’s 25-0 run against the Spartans late in the first half last Friday, Fresno’s 18-0 run in the last four minutes of the first half was the difference in the Spartans’ 73-53 loss.
“It only takes five minutes for our team to lose it.” said Spartan head coach Jean Prioleau. “In the Bahamas, it took 3:42 when we were ahead by 10. We have swings in a game, where it could take two minutes for us, three minutes, five minutes. Obviously, the magical question is ‘how do you stop that?’ We have to play with better composure.”
The Bulldogs were as advertised. Fresno’s team speed and athleticism kept consistent pressure in challenging and collapsing on every Spartan drive and shot in the paint.
In the first four minutes of the game, two decisive Bulldog blocks on drives by Spartans’ Noah Baumann and Oumar Barry set the defensive tone, though the Spartans had the overall size advantage.
With each missed Spartan shot, the Bulldogs pushed the pace. Fresno ended the first half shooting 60.7% and were 8-14 from beyond the arc; closing out the last seven minutes on a 21-3 run on the Spartans and a 47-25 halftime lead.
Fresno was without star guard Braxton Huggins due to illness, but the Bulldog’s other star guard, Deshon Taylor, coming off an elbow injury, played 26 minutes in an effective role off the bench. Taylor had nine points and four assists.
Bulldog forward Nate Grimes’ double-double of 19 points and 12 rebounds were game highs. The Spartans had no real answer stopping Grimes’ inside, who’s plus-24 differential was also a game high. Bulldog guard Noah Blackwell also chipped in 17 points and six assists.
The second half actually belonged to the Spartans 28-25, where they pulled as close as 13 points with 8:17 remaining.
Spartan forward Michael Steadman’s consistent presence earned him another double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds after a slow start.
“There were some shots I know I can usually make.” said Steadman. “I think I was little to quick on my shots, but other than that I don’t think it was about their defense stopping me, but they were pretty athletic though.”
San Jose freshman point guard Zach Chappell also put a spark into the Spartans. Chappell played an effective 13 minutes coming off the bench putting up seven points, two assists and three steals; leading San Jose with a plus-5 differential.
“I just gotta bring it every day.” said Chappell. “I trust coach and I know he’s gonna put me in there. I just gotta do my part.”
“It’s really strange.” said Prioleau. “As bad as it was in the first half, we won the second half. The second half is exactly the way we should have played. Now, it doesn’t mean we would’ve won, but it would’ve been much closer.”
San Jose State expects to face a much bigger challenge when the Spartans visit the sixth-ranked, 14-0 Nevada Wolf Pack next Wednesday.