Fresno State forward Cullen Russo opened the season with a double-double, scoring 23 points with 10 rebounds in a victory over Texas-San Antonio. There were two assists, one steal and two blocks in a team-high 36 minutes as well – a stuffed stat line that hints at the impact the 6-foot-9 senior can have when all is right.
But he will have none for the foreseeable future.
Russo has been suspended indefinitely by coach Rodney Terry for an unspecified violation of team rules, it was confirmed Tuesday. He did not practice with the team as the Bulldogs prepared for a Mountain West matchup against Air Force on Wednesday at Save Mart Center.
Terry declined to discuss Russo, focusing much more on the Falcons, who put an 81-72 loss on the Bulldogs on Jan. 11 at Clune Arena.
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In six Mountain West Conference games, Cullen Russo has played an average of 22.5 minutes, scoring 9.3 points with 4.8 rebounds. The Bulldogs are 2-4 in those games, 3-0 in the games he has not played.
“We have our team right here,” he said. “This is who we’ve been playing with. This is who we’ve been winning with. We’re worried about the guys we’ve got and the guys that we’re coaching right now. It’s really not a big deal.
“We’re trying to get back in the groove again. We got out of the groove a little bit and we have to get back in a groove again.”
Despite the strong start Russo had, the Bulldogs have had more success with him off the floor during the past month.
Fresno State (13-8, 5-4) went 3-0 with wins over Boise State, Colorado State and at Nevada with Russo out to take care of an ongoing academic issue for the first two of those games and stuck to the bench for the third.
Since the victory over Texas-San Antonio Russo averaged 27.1 minutes per game, scoring 8.8 points with 5.7 rebounds. In conference play, he has averaged 22.5 minutes in six games, scoring 9.3 points with 4.8 rebounds.
Sophomore Sam Bittner has started the past four games at the four, and Terry has liked the energy and urgency that he has brought.
They played really well the first game around and they took it to us on the glass. They got after us pretty good. They played harder and they executed their stuff a lot better than we did.
Fresno State coach Rodney Terry
“Sam, his preparation is always there,” Terry said. “He’s a young player still. He’s a sophomore. But he’s a young player that you know is going to know the scouting report. He’s going to do everything you ask him to do in terms of trying to block out and all those things. He helps you set the tone for how you want to start. He really does, because he plays with urgency on both ends of the floor all the time.”
That was not always present when it was Russo on the floor. Regardless, the Bulldogs cannot afford any lapses against the Falcons (10-11, 3-5), who found far too many barely contested shots when the teams went at it in Colorado Springs.
Air Force hit 51.9 percent of its shots, with 17 of its 22 baskets inside the 3-point line coming on layups and dunks.
“They’re a hard team to prepare for, a hard team to defend,” Terry said. “They have a good older group that knows how to play, knows what they’re looking for. They can score the basketball and defensively we have to sit down and really try to guard and have some patience guarding and more than anything really play our principles defensively.”
Fresno State has won 12 consecutive conference games played at the Save Mart Center and is 4-0 all-time there against Air Force. The past two of those games have been decided by a total of three points, 64-63 last season and 68-66 in 2015.
Forward Hayden Graham led Air Force with 21 points, hitting 8 of 13 shots. Guard Trevor Lyons added 18, knocking down 6 of 9 including two beyond the 3-point line. The Falcons had a 39-23 advantage on the boards, with 14 offensive rebounds.
“They played really well the first game around and they took it to us on the glass,” Terry said. “They got after us pretty good. They played harder and they executed their stuff a lot better than we did.
“They have a good team. I’ve said that from the beginning of the year. They have an older returning team that a lot of teams are fearful of playing. ... They’ve got guys that can score the basketball.”
Welcome mat – Guard New Williams and guard Marcus Cooper, transfers from Auburn and Northeastern Junior College in Sterling, Colo., are enrolled in classes. Terry said it would be a couple of weeks before they start practicing.
“We have to get them acclimated to school right now and then we’ll start slowly getting them into some basketball stuff,” Terry said. “We’ll get them in the strength and conditioning program, try to get them stronger. They have good potential, but we just have to see what they do when they come in and they have to do it every day.
“It all sounds good, but we have to see what they do when we get them on the floor. I use the adage that Bob Knight always used. You don’t really know what you have until they’re with you every day.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE VS. AIR FORCE
- Wednesday: 7 p.m. at Save Mart Center
- Records: Bulldogs 13-8, 5-4 Mountain West; Falcons 10-11, 3-5
- Webcast/radio: Root Sports, Mountain West Network (themwc.com)/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Notable: Air Force will come in well rested and off a victory over San Diego State on Tuesday, and the Falcons sliced up the Bulldogs’ defense when these teams met Jan. 11 at Clune Arena. Air Force hit 51.9 percent of its shots in its 81-72 victory, the highest allowed by the Bulldogs in conference play before Utah State hit 56.4 percent on Saturday at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum. Hayden Graham led the Falcons with 21 points and Trevor Lyons added 18. Air Force also out-rebounded the Bulldogs 33-22, and had 11 offensive rebounds.