It went quick. After playing their most scintillating half of basketball this season and racing toward a return to the championship game at the Mountain West Conference men’s basketball tournament, the Fresno State Bulldogs ran smack into Nevada, a team that they had beaten twice during the regular season, but also one that led the league in scoring, 3-point field goal percentage and rebounding margin.
It left them reeling, recovery only a fleeting thing, and after 20 minutes they were out of the tournament. Nevada, the No. 1 seed, moved on to the championship game with a decisive 83-72 victory Friday night at the Thomas & Mack Center.
Fresno State had 16 turnovers including seven in the second half that helped fuel the Wolf Pack run. Nevada turned those turnovers into 19 points.
In the first half, the Bulldogs had built on a run at the defensive end that fueled a six-game winning streak, allowing Nevada to hit just 23.3 percent of its shots. The Wolf Pack scored only 21 points in the first half, the fewest they have had in a half this season, and they were at just .583 points per possession.
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Nevada, which came in averaging 79.9 points per game, had been at 1.000 or higher in seven consecutive games and the low in that run was 1.139.
But coming out of halftime, the Wolf Pack hit just about everything. Open shots, contested shots, it didn’t matter. Nevada forward Cameron Oliver in that second half hit a 3-pointer from the left corner while fouled hard and falling to the ground, with the free throw converting a 4-point play. The Bulldogs’ 32-21 halftime lead was wiped out in a little more than six minutes with Nevada hitting 8 of its first 11 shots in the half including four from the 3-point line, two by Marcus Marshall.
The Wolf Pack (27-6) in the second half scored 1.722 points per possession. They scored on 26 of 36 possessions, hitting 19 of 24 shots (79.2 percent) and had a 16-0 run in a stretch they outscored the Bulldogs 25-2.
Marshall scored 25 of his game-high 28 points in the second half, hitting 6 of 7 shots including 4 of 5 at the 3-point line and 9 of 12 free throws.
Stat of the game – Nevada scored 62 points in the second half. In the Bulldogs’ six-game winning streak they had allowed only 60.2 points per game.
I thought we’ve done a really good job staying the course, even when teams made runs we didn’t flinch. We had some self-inflicted things in terms of turnovers, but we gave them some momentum to have that type of run.
Fresno State coach Rodney Terry
Nine times this season Fresno State allowed fewer than 62 points in a game.
Quotable – Fresno State forward Paul Watson: “Basketball is a game of runs. It was going to happen. It was bound to happen eventually. Unfortunately we just didn’t deal with it the way that we were supposed to and it ended up hurting us in the second half.”
Notable – The Bulldogs were at No. 74 in the NCAA RPI ratings after advancing to the semifinals of the conference tournament and hoping to get an opportunity to play in the NIT.
Fresno State has filed the required paperwork – bids go out on Sunday after the NCAA Tournament is filled.
“It’s out of our control right now,” coach Rodney Terry said. “We obviously feel like we’ve earned an opportunity for postseason play. We’ve been in the CBI and came up short of winning that championship. It helped our young players grow, it put us on the stage we were on last year, when we got the chance to be in the NCAA Tournament.
“We’re going to have some type of postseason. We’re excited about another opportunity, because we have young players in our program that will be coming back next year and continue to grow, and grow up (Friday). They had to grow up on a main stage and they’ll be better going forward. We’re going to be excited about an opportunity to continue playing.”
Deshon Taylor led the Bulldogs with 21 points, 14 coming in the second half. The sophomore guard scored at least 15 points in all 15 games since entering the starting lineup, averaging 19.2 points per game over that span.
Quotable – Oliver, the Nevada forward, on the Wolf Pack’s second-half shooting: “It is incredible we shot 79 percent, that’s crazy. But at the same time it’s something I know we are still capable of. We can make shots. I know people can make shots, I know Marcus can make shots, all of us can make shots on this team. It’s just a matter of them falling in the basket.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada