Fresno State has fared well in the grind-it-out game, not only this season but the past two or three. The Bulldogs will muddy a game, try to take this or that or both away from their opponent and make every possession matter.
They were there again Wednesday at Texas Christian in the first-round matchup in the NIT but ran into trouble inside of nine minutes to play and could not recover, their season coming to an end with a 66-59 loss at Schollmaier Arena.
The Bulldogs (20-13) had come from 12 down in the first half and were in a possession game, the score tied at 47 when Jaron Hopkins and Cullen Russo stopped the Horned Frogs’ Alex Robinson on a drive to the basket. Hopkins deflected the shot, but the ball bounced right back to Robinson for a layup and with a foul a 3-point play.
Freshman Bryson Williams then missed at point-blank range at the other end and TCU (20-15) came down and scored off an offensive rebound by Kenrich Williams, one of 14 offensive rebounds for the Horned Frogs that led to 16 second-chance points.
“There were a couple of 50-50 balls that could have gone either way and they ended up going the other way on us and at the end of the day they really kind of cost us,” coach Rodney Terry said. “We get those balls and we’re able to have that possession then obviously it’s a different deal. A couple of those plays kind of broke our back a little bit.
“But our guys’ effort was there. We had guys diving on the floor for loose balls. You can’t ever fault that. Our guys were trying. The ball just kind of bounced their way on a couple of plays. But I thought our guys fought and kept competing the whole time. When you’re on the road, you have to make a way. You have to find a way. We were close to finding a way.”
Fresno State had the score tied and within less than one minute and on two plays, momentum had turned despite allowing TCU to hit 41.2 percent of its shots while coming up with 10 steals and forcing 19 turnovers.
The Horned Frogs in the second round will play the winner of a game between No. 1 Iowa and No. 8 South Dakota.
The Bulldogs, playing in a postseason tournament in back-to-back years for the first time since advancing to the NCAA Tournament in 2000 and ’01, were led by Deshon Taylor with 13 points and Hopkins added 12.
Stat of the game – Fresno State gave up 14 offensive rebounds, the most it had allowed since giving up 15 in a 78-57 victory over Colorado State on Jan. 18 at the Save Mart Center.
The Bulldogs had allowed more offensive rebounds only three times this season and, curiously, had won two of those games. They beat the Rams and in the season opener took down Texas-San Antonio when giving up 23 offensive rebounds.
“It was a tough one for us tonight,” senior forward Paul Watson said. “We had some unforced turnovers throughout the whole game, which really hurt us. We gave up a couple offensive rebounds in crucial parts of the game that hurt us. I feel it was more self-inflicted that anything. It was just a rough one for us.”
Notable – The Bulldogs had 16 assists on 21 made baskets, their second highest assisted basket percentage (76.2) this season.
They were at 80 percent (24 of 30) in a Dec. 6 loss at Marquette.
Still, they started the game 1 of 8 shooting the basketball and were 2 of 12, 3 of 15 and 5 of 20.
Quotable – Watson, after his final game in a Fresno State uniform: “I told Karachi (Edo) before the final buzzer, ‘It has been fun.’ It has been an amazing four years and I’ve learned so much, played with a lot of great guys and made a lot of memories.
“These four years, these guys, everybody that I’ve played, they’ll be my brothers forever, and I’ve learned a lot from Coach Terry, from Coach (Byron) Jones, from Coach (Michael) Schwartz when he was here, Coach (Kenton) Paulino and Coach (Jerry) Wainwright. It’s just a great staff. They instilled a lot of things in me, learning how to play hard, the whole 40 minutes and the work ethic that they demand from you and instill in you, those are the main things that I’ll definitely take from this program.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada