It wasn’t going to be easy. The Fresno State Bulldogs went in knowing that, because San Diego State is leading the Mountain West Conference in scoring defense and field goal percentage defense, and is second in steals. The Aztecs are long and athletic. They contest shots and are tough to beat off the dribble, and if you do get into the paint there are some decent shot blockers there to defend the rim. They also are third in blocked shots.
Certainly, they don’t need help.
But the Bulldogs gave them some Saturday in a 70-67 loss in front of a season-high crowd of 8,882 at the Save Mart Center, which put an end to their conference home winning streak at 13 games.
The Bulldogs’ Deshon Taylor scored 16 of his team-high 18 points in the second half. In six games since entering the starting lineup, the sophomore guard is averaging 20.0 points per game and 88 of his 120 points have come in the second half.
“They force you to make some plays,” coach Rodney Terry said. “You can run a lot of different sets and do a lot of different things, but at the end of the day it comes down to finishing plays and making plays.
“I like to think that we’re that same type of team as well, in terms of guys have to make plays, and they have to finish plays, and they did a better job of that than we did.”
That undoubtedly was the case toward the end of the first half and well into the second, when Fresno State fell into a double-digit hole that proved too deep.
The Bulldogs had hit seven of their first 11 shots and had five assists on those makes. And they were 10 of 22, with seven assists, when they ran into trouble.
Fresno State ended the first half missing its last three shots with two turnovers; that continued into the second half, which exacerbated a poor start at the defensive end.
Through a 15-minute stretch, the Bulldogs hit 6 of 19 shots (31.6 percent) and had seven turnovers.
Not all of that was the Aztecs – operator error played a part, as well.
They force you to make some plays. You can run a lot of different sets and do a lot of different things, but at the end of the day it comes down to finishing plays and making plays.
Fresno State coach Rodney Terry
The Bulldogs missed some open looks, but their lapses hurt. San Diego State took a lead at 27-26 late in the first half when Malik Pope sliced inside Karachi Edo to steal an ill-advised pass from Jaron Hopkins, going in for a dunk.
Terrell Carter II got the ball on the right block and when the Aztecs’ brought a double the 6-foot-10, 290-pound center dribbled the ball out to the 3-point line, back out top and forced a pass into Edo inside that was deflected and stolen.
Jahmel Taylor in the second half whiffed on a wild scoop shot moving across the lane and away from the basket. Carter turned it over on a bad screen that sent Dakarai Allen sprawling to the floor. Hopkins had another turnover, one of five in the game, when he looped a lazy pressure over some backcourt pressure and had it stolen.
The Bulldogs, for a stretch of 14 minutes, scored all of 10 points.
“They went on a run and we had to try to fight back from that,” said guard Deshon Taylor, who scored 16 of his 18 points in the second half, helping the Bulldogs make their way back into the game in the final seven minutes.
Fresno State got back within one point twice in the last 4:38, applying some pressure on a San Diego State team that was 1-6 on the road and 0-6 in games decided by six points or fewer, but could not get back on top.
Fresno State had won 11 consecutive conference games that had been decided by three points or less, the longest streak in the nation. It had not lost a one-possession game since Jan. 25, 2014, a 75-73 overtime loss at UNLV.
“It was hard for us because they’re a great defensive team,” Taylor said. “… We just didn’t come out ready. They came out ready and went on a run, and coach had to get on us during the timeout for us to pick it up and it was hard for us to get back in it.”
Offensively, the Bulldogs had been efficient playing on their home floor. They had hit 48.5 percent of their shots at home in averaging 79.4 points per game.
But then they ran into the Aztecs, who had lost their last two trips to the Save Mart Center, 58-57 last season and 59-57 in 2015.
“We really harped on over the past couple of weeks with our team, we want to play with really good pace on offense … hard cuts,” Terry said. “I thought we were getting to a point where we were going really hard, whether it’s a cut to initiate the offense, a pass to initiate the offense. We’re moving. Any time we have good movement we’re pretty tough to deal with. It’s when we don’t have good movement a lot of times we’re easier to guard.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE VS. WYOMING
- Wednesday: 6 p.m. at Arena-Auditorium (15,028) in Laramie, Wyo.
- Records: Bulldogs 14-9, 6-5 Mountain West; Cowboys 15-9, 5-6
- Webcast/radio: MWN/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Notable: The Cowboys went on the road Saturday and beat Air Force 83-74 with guard Justin James coming off the bench to score 26 points with seven assists. Fresno State beat Wyoming at Save Mart Center 85-70 on Jan. 4. The Bulldogs allowed the Cowboys to hit only 31.7 percent of their shots, including 28.6 percent at the 3-point line.