Fresno State had a five-game men's basketball winning streak end at Wyoming while playing poorly, particularly defensively, and in those 40 minutes managed to turn a lot of positives it had built over the past three weeks back into question marks.
But the Bulldogs on Saturday night found a way to re-rally, beating Utah State 79-76 at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum, where they have not had much success over the years.
The Aggies have won 90% of their games at home over the past 15 years and, as senior guard Tyler Johnson said, when Fresno State has been in the building it hasn't been all that close.
"I played here my freshman year, I think we lost by 25. I played here my sophomore year, I think we lost by like 30," he said.
"My biggest thing was to come in and play hard, that was our biggest thing, to get back to playing defense."
The Bulldogs (14-14, 7-8 Mountain West) did that, and more. Where they had struggled at Wyoming, they reversed their fortunes.
Fresno State had 17 assists, after getting two in the loss to the Cowboys. The Bulldogs knocked down their perimeter shots, hitting 47.8% (11 of 23) of their 3-pointers, after making 3 of 11 at Wyoming. They rebounded better and, most importantly, defended better.
"We knew we didn't play particularly well, especially defensively, up there," coach Rodney Terry said. "I thought we won this game a couple of days ago. In the last couple of days of practice, I thought we had really good focus.
"Our guys came back and the first day back, we called it getting back to basics in terms of one-on-one, in terms of ball-screen defense and in terms of blocking out, and I thought our guys did a great job of really working hard and really getting better in those areas and they got a chance to carry it over and did it tonight. It was big for us."
Fresno State hit hard early, going on a 24-8 run midway through the first half to take a 34-18 lead.
Utah State (15-12, 5-12) hit 3 of 12 shots in that stretch, while the Bulldogs were beating the Aggies from the perimeter on in.
Johnson hit 8 of 15 shots, including 4 of 6 at the 3-point line, to lead the Bulldogs with 21 points, and his 1,192 for his career move him past Lonnie Hughey (1,187 in 1965-66) and into 19th on the school's all-time scoring list.
Freshman Paul Watson tied a career high set at Utah with 20 points, hitting 6 of 9, including 4 of 5 beyond the 3-point line.
The Bulldogs also got 15 from Marvelle Harris and seven points and four assists from senior Allen Huddleston off the bench. Johnson and Cezar Guerrero also had four assists.
The Aggies were able to cut it to 39-33 at halftime and then made a run in the second half, taking a lead at 47-46 with 15:52 remaining on a basket by TeNale Roland.
The teams were separated by no more than two possessions the rest of the way.
But the Bulldogs got some big shots in the final 8 minutes, including 3-pointers from the freshman Watson almost 2 minutes apart and a big follow from forward Tanner Giddings with 4:13 to go that gave the Bulldogs a 72-68 lead.
"My teammates, they trust me, so as soon as I get it I let it go with confidence," Watson said.
"I feel like every time I let it go, it should go in."
After the derailment at Wyoming, the answers down the stretch were magnified, Johnson said.
"I was overwhelmed, I was impressed with how guys like Paul, guys like Marvelle, guys like Alex (Davis) and Tanner stepped up," he said. "In the face of adversity, when we used to shy away from it, we hit it head on. It showed — it was a huge win for the program.
"They made their run, but we battled through it. It just proves that we are playing better basketball, that we didn't just hit a stretch where we were getting lucky. We beat a quality team at their place. It shows how far this team has come."
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