If only Fresno State flipped the script and played in the first half as it does in the second, games against outgunned opponents from the nation’s lower levels of men’s college basketball would look and feel and be viewed much differently.
It was Menlo College on Wednesday night, a middling NAIA team hanging around for a half and at times making the Bulldogs look very suspect. The Oaks were outrebounding the Bulldogs at the break and got some way-too-easy baskets right at the rim – 14 of their first 18 points coming in the paint in a half they ended up trailing by one point.
But afterward, coach Rodney Terry wasn’t overly concerned. The Bulldogs put together a strong second half at the defensive end to come away with an 80-67 victory at Save Mart Center. Just part of the process, and part of the pattern.
You have to get guys to understand that we have faceless opponents at this time of year. It’s about us. That’s constantly harped on. Fresno State coach Rodney Terry
Two years ago, it was Bristol, in the game while not even playing well, hitting barely 40 percent of its shots and trailing 37-34 at halftime before it was overwhelmed at both ends of the floor over the final 20 minutes.
Last season, it was The Master’s and a sharp guard named Reid Shackelford knocking down 3-pointers, tied at the break and making it a tussle the whole way.
That 2015-16 team, it ended up OK.
“Hey,” Terry said. “We won the league last year, and we played a game similar to this one. This is a team that is going to grow all year. It’s a process. We’re not perfect right not, got a lot of work to do, got a lot of room to continue to grow. We’ll just continue to coach them and continue to get them better with it.”
The Bulldogs (4-2), who head out on the road for games at Drake on Saturday and Marquette on Tuesday, had it going in the second half against the Oaks.
Menlo (5-5) hit 9 of 31 shots (29 percent), and the Bulldogs finished those possessions much better – they had a 25-13 rebounding advantage.
The Bulldogs had 13 turnovers in a victory at Oregon State of the Pacific-12 Conference last week. They had 14 against Menlo, which had forced an average of 14.3 turnovers in nine games against fellow NAIA schools and others in the National Christian College Athletic Association.
Fresno State exploited its physical advantages at the offensive end as well, driving right by the less-athletic Oaks. Jaron Hopkins, who led the Bulldogs with 18 points, blasted down the middle of the lane for an emphatic dunk and on the next trip down lofted a perfect alley-oop to Paul Watson for another dunk.
Those plays came at the front end of an eight-minute stretch, during which the Bulldogs hit 10 of 11 shots that included six layups and three dunks. With the appropriate pressure applied at the defensive end, the Oaks couldn’t keep up.
“I wouldn’t say the energy was where it needed to be,” said Watson, who with 10 points was one of five Bulldogs to score in double figures, “but we adjusted that at halftime, fixed what we needed to and played hard in the second half.
“The defensive intensity picked up. The block outs definitely picked up. We had quite a few missed block outs in the first half. Those two areas are what we really focused on at halftime and made the change in the second half.”
I wouldn’t say the energy was where it needed to be, but we adjusted that at halftime, fixed what we needed to and played hard in the second half. Fresno State forward Paul Watson
Do that in the first 20 minutes, and Menlo – which before Fresno State had lost to Eastern Oregon, Pacific Union, Cal State Maritime and Southern Oregon – is never in it.
“This time of year, a lot of coaches around the country are really trying to stress to their teams that it’s not about the opponent you’re playing. It’s about you getting better each time out, whether that’s practice or games,” Terry said. “It’s about you trying to improve the areas where you need to improve and get better with.
“You have to get guys to understand that we have faceless opponents at this time of year,” Terry said. “It’s about us. That’s constantly harped on.
“We went harder in practice the past two days than we played in the game (Wednesday), but that’s having some youth on your team and having some older guys on your team. It’s a blend, and as your team continues to understand, your approach and preparation for every game has to be the same. We have to approach this game like we’re playing San Diego State.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE VS. DRAKE
- Saturday: Noon at Knapp Center (7,152)
- Records: Bulldogs 4-2; Drake 1-6
- Webcast/radio: ESPN3/KFIG (AM 940)
- Of note: Drake, also nicknamed the Bulldogs, fell 77-75 at DePaul on Wednesday night. The team’s one win this season came 76-61 over Simpson on Nov. 19.