Fresno State, riding its defense for a fourth consecutive game, clinched a first-round bye for the Mountain West Conference Tournament with a 74-67 victory at Boise State on Tuesday at Taco Bell Arena, its first win there since 2004.
Boise State was averaging 76.7 points in MW play and had averaged 80.4 points over its past five games, but had put up only 44 points with 10 minutes to go. The Broncos were able to string together a few possessions, but Fresno State made plays at both ends of the floor when threatened down the stretch.
The Bulldogs (18-11, 10-7 in the MW) are alone in fourth place in the conference and can move up to third with a victory over last-place UNLV on Saturday and a Boise State loss at Air Force. Fresno State, which swept the season series from the Broncos, holds a tie breaker edge should both teams finish 11-7 in conference play, and is now 5-1 against the teams in first, second and third in the conference.
Deshon Taylor scored a game-high 26 points to lead the Bulldogs, hitting 7 of 11 shots including 4 of 4 at the 3-point line. Taylor has scored 20 or more points five times in 11 games since entering the starting lineup and is averaging 20.3 points in those games.
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It also swept Nevada (12-4) and split with Colorado State (13-4).
The Broncos had cut a 14-point deficit to just 55-52 with 7:42 to go. But the Bulldogs scored as they had all game, with Jaron Hopkins slicing right through the Boise State defense for a lay up. Fresno State then put together back-to-back stops at the defensive end, including a blocked shot by Paul Watson on Chandler Hutchison.
Stat of the game – Fresno State had 11 steals and forced 15 turnovers in holding Boise State to 67 points. The Broncos had been held to fewer than 70 points just once in conference play, scoring 57 in a loss to Nevada.
Notable – Sophomore Sam Bittner, who had started nine of the past 11 games for the Bulldogs, was ill and did not make the trip.
Notable II – Watson had 10 points in the first half and 18 in the game, breaking out of a severe slump in which he had hit only 35.8 percent of his shots over eight games.
Watson was averaging just 7.4 points per game over that stretch. He was 24 of 67 including just 4 of 23 (17.4 percent) at the 3-point line.
Boise State had a 45-5 advantage in bench scoring - and it wouldn’t have been close without it. The Bulldogs didn’t allow a Broncos’ starter even 10 points. Chandler Hutchison led that group with just seven points.
“You go into the game with as much confidence as possible,” said Watson, who hit 6 of 11 shots against the Broncos including 3 of 6 at the 3-point line. “There are going to be nights where you’re not really making shots, but you have to find ways to affect the game in different ways, which I’ve been trying to do the past couple of games.
“If it’s not my night shooting the ball I have to find a certain ways to affect the game for the team. But if you go into the game as confident as possible, the right things will happen for you.”
Quotable – Fresno State coach Rodney Terry: “We did a nice job with our defensive scheme in terms of working the game and trying to force some guys into some difficult shots. They’re a really good shooting team. They’re a really good team in transition. I thought we did a pretty good job for a better part of the game, give or take a little here in the second half when we gave them some easy points in the paint.
“But our guys have really been trying to execute the defensive game plan and do it at a high level. They’ve really been trying to play for each other, having each other’s backs, and lock in with the execution at the defensive end.”
Coming up – The Bulldogs are fitting all of the pieces together at the defensive end in a four game winning streak, allowing only 60.5 points per game in victories over San Jose State, New Mexico, San Diego State and Boise State. The Broncos and Lobos are third and fifth in the Mountain West in scoring.
FRESNO STATE VS. UNLV
- Saturday: 4 p.m. at Save Mart Center
- Records: Bulldogs 18-11, 10-7 Mountain West; Rebels 10-19, 3-13
- TV/radio: ESPN3/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Notable: The Rebels under first-year coach Marvin Menzies are in last place in the Mountain West, losers of nine in a row headed into a game on Wednesday against Utah State. Their last three losses, at San Diego State, at Air Force and to Nevada, have come by an average of 24.0 poinits per game. Junior guard Jovan Mooring is leading UNLV in scoring at 12.4 points per game, but he has hit only 38.0 percent of his shots. The Rebels as a team have hit 39.7 percent of their shots including 32.7 percent at the 3-point line. They are 2-8 on the road and 1-7 in MW road games.