In the battle for 2nd place in the MWC, Utah State and Fresno State both brought their best games to the Save Mart Center. But after the Dogs were able to shock the Aggies by 1 point in Logan, the Aggies returned the favor in Fresno, besting the Bulldogs 82-81. It was honestly a game that Utah State controlled through the first half, jumping out to a quick 20-7 lead behind Sam Merrill’s great shooting night. Even though the Bulldogs would close within 3 points twice in the first half, USU always kept them at arm’s length, and went into the break up by 6 points. The big story was Aggie big man Neemias Queta, as he got into some quick foul trouble in the first half that put him on the bench, allowing the Dogs to get back into the game. Having him under the rim at both ends was huge for Utah State, as he pulled down 15 rebounds, almost 3 times as many as any individual Bulldog.
Before I jump into the second half recap, where things got really interesting, I need to lodge some complaints with the conference. Is AT&T Sportsnet really the best you guys can do? A game between two strong teams in the conference, fighting for 2nd, and they’re pretty much relegated to an Internet broadcast that most of us have to backdoor to even watch? Get yourselves together MWC, even ESPN3 would be better than that. Pretty hard to build the brand when the station you want us broadcast on is only available in small markets on certain providers.
Anyway, back to basketball. The second half can really be summed up as a duel between Braxton Huggins and Sam Merrill. The senior transfer from NMSU has been a revelation for the Bulldogs, and was the man that sank the game-winning 3pt shot in the first game against Utah State. He and Deshon Taylor did their best to really will Fresno State into this one, and gave their all. Even Sam Bittner got some much improved looks and shots tonight, but for every Bulldog shot, Sam Merrill was ready at the other end to answer. The Utah State offense kept drawing the Bulldogs in, only to hit them with an extra pass and sink a shot from outside. They clearly watched the film on the Fresno State defense, and found a weakness they could exploit. Hopefully it’s something that Justin Hutson will be able to address it with the boys, or else it will be a serious problem down the line.
This may all seem like doom and gloom, but the Bulldogs really did play admirably. They even battled all the way back, and took the lead in the 2nd half. Two separate leads went the Bulldog way, but the last 6 minutes or so was both teams going punch for punch, with USU landing the last blow. Fresno State got to within 2 points in the waning seconds, but Sam Merrill was able to sink his 2 free throws, and put the game on ice. A Deshon Taylor 3pt shot at the buzzer was pretty, but was strictly cosmetic. And it led to some interesting balance between the two games, since the point differential between Fresno State and Utah State is +0. Both teams are definitely making move for post-season play, and this game really just showed how strong both teams are under first year coaches. In a world where Eric Musselmann’s team wasn’t dominating everything, these two would be playing for the NCAA tournament. As of now, it looks like both are NIT bound, and playing for 2nd unless they can score a big upset over the Wolf Pack down the stretch.
Where To Next:
Fresno State travels to the Thomas & Mack to take on the UNLV Rebels Saturday at 2:00PM. Game will be broadcast on ESPN3.
Utah State will stay on the road, heading to the Mesa to take on a rapidly fading SDSU team Saturday night at 7:00PM, also on ESPN3.
Utah State is now 1 game back from Nevada, and Fresno State falls to 2 games back. Both are hoping for upsets if they want to lock up the No.2 seed for the conference tournament, or even capture the regular season crown from the Wolf Pack.