Fresno State coach Rodney Terry didn’t have an answer, but he did have a smile and a chuckle at just how quickly things can change after the Bulldogs rebounded from back-to-back losses to hand Mountain West-leading Boise State its first loss in Mountain West Conference play.
Their 89-80 victory Saturday was one of their best and most vibrant games of the season, and they did it after making three substantive changes in their starting lineup and getting no minutes from senior forward Cullen Russo, who was eligible to play but held out and was not even at Save Mart Center while dealing with an academic issue.
About 70 hours earlier, they appeared to be in deep trouble, but they put that away with 40 minutes of good basketball.
It doesn’t really matter if I start or not. I just know I have to go in and play hard. Coach wanted me to play defense, so I’m going to go in and play defense.
Fresno State guard Deshon Taylor
So, what now with that starting lineup?
“It’s one night,” Terry said. “We’re going to continue to build this. This was a great team win. We had six guys score in double figures, and I thought every guy that came into the game played hard. That’s all we can ask. That’s again what we were trying to emphasize going into this game, and we’ll go from here.”
With Bryson Williams, Sam Bittner and Deshon Taylor joining Paul Watson and Jahmel Taylor in the starting lineup, Terry got the more dogged defensive effort that he was after.
Boise State opened the game 0 of 10 with three turnovers and didn’t make its first field goal until the 12:33 mark in the first half. By that time, it was down 18-6.
Deshon Taylor took two charges in that first half. Watson had a big block on Chandler Hutchison, the Broncos’ leading scorer and third in the conference at 18.3 points per game, and ended up only 4 of 10 for 14 points. The Bulldogs finished possessions with strong blockouts, Boise State getting only three offensive rebounds in the half.
With their win over Boise State, the Bulldogs have won their past three matchups against teams in first or tied for first place in the conference. They beat the 4-0 Broncos, 1-0 Nevada and 11-0 San Diego State last season.
“It doesn’t really matter if I start or not,” Deshon Taylor said. “I just know I have to go in and play hard. Coach wanted me to play defense, so I’m going to go in and play defense.
“They were one of the top shooting teams in our conference, so if we let them hit shots, they were going to bully us. Our defense led to our offense, getting steals, getting stops; it all helped us energize our offensive game.”
In his first career start and in a team-high 37 minutes, Deshon Taylor led the Bulldogs with 19 points and also had six rebounds, four assists and two steals without a turnover. Down the stretch, he made 9 of 10 free throws in the final 5:29 to keep the Broncos from cutting too deeply into the Bulldogs’ lead.
Williams made his first start since a Dec. 20 loss at Oregon and scored a career-high 14 points and had seven rebounds, two blocked shots and three steals in 19 jam-packed minutes, taking a seat in the second half when the Broncos went to a smaller lineup to try to get back into a game they trailed by 28 at one point in the first half.
Bittner, making his first start of the year, was quickly back on the bench after picking up multiple fouls by the 18:45 mark in the first half.
I thought every guy that came into the game played hard. That’s all we can ask. That’s again what we were trying to emphasize going into this game, and we’ll go from here.
Fresno State coach Rodney Terry
But he ended up playing 21 minutes, and that appears to be the wild card at this point and headed forward. The Bulldogs, with Deshon Taylor and Williams, have options to work with, and they do, as well, at the four with or without Russo, who has produced diminishing returns since opening the season with 23 points and 10 rebounds in a victory over Texas-San Antonio.
When the Broncos went small in the second half Saturday, Terry responded by playing Watson at the four and Karachi Edo at the five. Watson and Edo both have played the four at Fresno State, and – depending on the matchup – Williams and Terrell Carter II both have proven they can be impact players.
Russo, meanwhile, has averaged only 24.6 minutes in five conference games, the fewest among the Bulldogs’ regular starters. Deshon Taylor, with his 37 minutes in his first start, is now averaging 24.8 minutes in MW play.
In his past two games, the losses at San Jose State and at Air Force that led to the lineup shakeup, Russo had a plus-minus of minus-11 and minus-9, respectively.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE VS. COLORADO STATE
- Wednesday: 8 p.m. at Save Mart Center
- Records: Bulldogs 11-7, 3-3 Mountain West;
- Rams 11-7, 3-2
- TV/radio: CBS Sports Network/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Notable: The Rams lost Saturday at home 84-71 to New Mexico. Colorado State is 2-3 on the road this season, scoring an average of 65.8 points compared to 77.0 at home.