Fresno State affirmed just about everything from a four-game winning streak by taking it to a Colorado State team that had blitzed them five weeks ago, a loss that forced them to change the way they were practicing, forced them to play stronger, more competitively, and with a harder edge.
Or, at least try to do all of the above.
The Bulldogs had taken some steps in that direction. But on Saturday night, they pushed hard against the team that had pushed them around.
In a 75-66 victory at the Save Mart Center, the Bulldogs took control from the start, defending and rebounding and generally outplaying the Rams to extend their conference winning streak to five games, something they have not done since the end of the 2006-07 season.
"Our guys came out and competed at a very high level defensively, probably the best defensive half we've had all year against a really good motion offense team," coach Rodney Terry said.
"We knew it was going to be a very physical game. We had to set the tone, as far as we were going to come out and be physical and really guard hard and I think our guys did that."
Fresno State (13-13, 6-7 in the conference) took a lead for good 61/2 minutes into the game, and by the end of the half they had decided edges where they were most deficient against the Rams in a 19-point loss on Jan. 11.
The Bulldogs had an 18-4 edge in points in the paint — last time it was 30-14 in favor of the Rams. They hit 53.8% of their shots while limiting Colorado State to 39.1% — the last time it was Colorado State that had a decided edge, hitting 48.1% while holding the Bulldogs to just 34.6%.
They forced 11 turnovers while committing just three, and they had 14 rebounds and were a minus-2 overall on the boards, where a month ago they were a minus-16 — which included 11 offensive rebounds.
They also did that with leading scorer Tyler Johnson — one of their two seniors — taking a seat on the bench for the final 8:19 of the half after he had picked up a second personal foul.
With Johnson back on the floor and scoring 17 of his team-high 18 points, the Bulldogs maintained a double-digit lead through most of the second half.
Colorado State (14-12, 5-8) did make a run after switching to zone at the defensive end, cutting the lead to single digits with 5:01 remaining when Joe De Ciman scored on a drive to the basket.
Fresno State this time had answers, though, as it has had while beating Wyoming, Air Force, San Jose State and Nevada earlier in its winning streak.
His team's lead cut to 65-58 with 2:50 to go, Bulldogs forward Alex Davis was able to get to the rim and follow a missed shot to extend the lead.
"Coach has been telling me every day to just attack the boards, because we really need to improve in that area and I need to improve in that area and be more of a physical rebounder," Davis said of his follow.
"That's what I've been concentrating on, just rebounding the ball, rebounding outside my area. I just saw an opportunity and I took it."
Then, the lead down to 68-62 with 1:25 remaining, Marvelle Harris found Davis for a resounding dunk.
The Bulldogs ended up with five players with 10 or more points — Johnson with the 18 as well as a team-high six rebounds, Harris with 16 in going 10 of 11 at the free-throw line, Davis with 14 along with three big offensive rebounds and Cezar Guerrero and Allen Huddleston with 11.
Daniel Bejarano scored 24 points on 8-of-19 shooting for Colorado State. Tim Octeus added 14 points and nine rebounds.
Johnson hit seven of the Bulldogs' first 11 points of the second half, starting it off with a 3-pointer.
The fouls called against him in the first half were somewhat questionable, but coming out of the locker room he had one thought.
"Just be aggressive," said Johnson, who also had five assists against just one turnover.
Now, 26 games into the season, the Bulldogs seem to have found that aggressiveness.
"This team has gotten better and better in terms of details and preparation," Terry said.
"They've learned to play 40 minutes and that's what it takes to win in this league."
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