Writer’s Note: Sorry for this being late. The last week before Spring Break, and 3 after school events makes a teacher fall behind schedule
Sure, it doesn’t have the prestige of the NCAA Tournament or the NIT, but it still is big news when a Mountain West team wins a postseason basketball tournament. Fresno State completed an up-and-down season by winning The Basketball Classic, defeating Coastal Carolina in Conway 85-74. It was their highest scoring game of the season, and one that saw the team bring home the hardware, and momentum into the 2022-2023 season.
This game was supposed to be in Fresno, but it had to be moved to South Carolina due to a conflict with a monster truck event at the Save Mart Center. Not sure you can really get more Fresno than that, but the team rolled with it. Especially after the game had to be moved back a day due to travel issues with Fresno State’s flight.
These issues did not seem to present problems for the Bulldogs, as they rushed out to a 13-1 lead before CCU made their first field goal at the 16 minute mark. The Chanticleers would quickly get back into the game though, closing the gap down to 3 points at the media timeout, 15-12. CCU’s offense was heavily stifled by Fresno’s defense in the first half, while the Dogs were able to find buckets from behind the arc with ease. This was clearly their best 3pt shooting game of the year, they went 60% from behind the line, and at the first half buzzer, were sitting at 80% three point shooting. That sort of performance made Bulldog fans question where that sort of game had been all year, but the Chant’s defense was very much not their strength during the year.
The game flow certainly favored the Bulldogs, as CCU scored in fits and starts all the way through the half, while Fresno was much more consistent on the offensive end. They had opened up an 18 point lead at the half, and it looked like the game was in complete control. The Bulldog lead would stretch to 24 early on in the 2nd half, and it truly did look like time to engrave the name on the trophy. While the Dogs would continue to score in the 2nd half, they began to have trouble with CCU’s triangle plus defense.
Multiple Fresno State turnovers and missed shots allowed the Chanticleers to claw their way back into the game, turning the 24 point lead into a 9 point lead with 4 minutes to go. By that point, Bulldog fans might have been feeling that familiar sense of dread we’ve seen from our sports teams over the last few decades, but the Dogs were not to be denied tonight. CCU would get the lead down to 7 points on two separate occasions, but that was the closest that they’d get. Orlando Robinson and Leo Colimerio would go perfect from the line in the last 3 minutes, and allowed Fresno to breathe a bit easier for an 11 point victory after a final Wilfried Likayi layup at the horn. Even though it couldn’t be shared with the fans on the home floor, it was still great to watch the team and coaches celebrate this momentous win through ESPN+.
On the stats end, Orlando Robinson finished his season strong with a final double-double, pitching in 20 points and 14 rebounds on the night. He was also the tournament MVP, and a well deserved accolade at that. 5 different Bulldogs scored in double figures, and the whole team shot 52.5% from the floor. The highest scorer of the night would be Coastal’s Rudi Williams, who scored 23 in the game. Williams and Likayi were the only Chants to break double digits, the whole team was below 40%, and a pretty light 28% from behind the arc. They did outshoot Fresno at the line, dropping in 16 free throws to the Bulldogs’ 11. Those 5 extra points weren’t anywhere near enough though, as Fresno State returns home as Basketball Classic champs.
While The Basketball Classic is a new tournament, it has its roots in the CIT. CIT champs have a long history of using wins there as a springboard to more success in future seasons. Recent CIT champs were St. Peter’s and Murray State, both who had magical runs into the NCAA tournament this year. We’ll see if Fresno State can use this momentum in a similar fashion, but this certainly will be a great way to advertise the program for the future. It remains to be seen if Orlando Robinson returns for a senior season, or if he departs for the NBA. We probably won’t have those answers until May or June, but next year’s Bulldog team could be a problem in a Mountain West conference that just sent 4 teams to the NCAA, and another to the NIT. But after going 0-for everything in the other tournaments, Fresno State remains alone as the last dogs standing.