Fresno State got the tough stuff right for the most part on Tuesday in a 59-57 loss to Evansville in the Cancun Challenge at the Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya in Cancun.
The Bulldogs forced 17 turnovers, had 13 steals and some stops down the stretch. They got scattered a bit too much at the defensive end, straying from scouting report. But they didn’t let Ryan Taylor, the Purple Aces’ leading scorer, get away with too much too easily.
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Taylor, who had taken 35.7 percent of the shots attempted by Evansville and was scoring 24.0 points per game, was scoreless down the final 10 minutes in the first half and made only one basket in the final 7:10.
That was the game-winner with seven seconds to go. But it wasn’t so much that jump shot that sunk the Bulldogs.
It was the easy stuff that cost Fresno State (2-2), which will play George Mason (3-2) on Wednesday in the third-place game in the Riviera Division.
In a two-point loss, the Bulldogs were just 5 of 14 at the free throw line, 35.7 percent. Before Deshon Taylor knocked down three foul shots to tie the score at 57 after getting fouled on a 3-point attempt with 36 seconds to go, they were just 2 of 11.
The Bulldogs also were 5 of 14 finishing at the rim, missing nine layups.
Fresno State at the free throw line this season was 12 of 21 (57.1 percent) against UC Santa Cruz, 9 of 18 (50 percent) against Cal State Northridge, 13 of 22 (59.1 percent) at Anransas and 5 of 14 (35.7 percent) against Evansville.
“We’re having a hard time finishing. We’re missing a lot of easy shots that we have to make,” coach Rodney Terry said. “Those are big plays. They deflate you.”
Fresno State had trouble at the line through its first three games, hitting only 55.7 percent of its foul shots to rank 344th of 351 in the nation. But, 5 of 14? Ray Bowles Jr. and Bryson Williams each were 0 of 4 and Jaron Hopkins 0 of 1, the miss the front end of a 1-and-1 with 1:31 to go and the Bulldogs down three.
The Bulldogs hit only 38.6 percent of their shots, with a higher percentage at the 3-point line (8 of 20, 40.0 percent) than inside it (14 of 37, 37.8) and at the foul line.
While Fresno State got the stops it needed own the stretch – Evansville was 1 of 4 in the final 3:49 – it couldn’t convert given opportunities. The Bulldogs hit only 1 of their last 8 shots and were without a field goal for the final 3:30.
“We have to shoot it better,” Terry said of the free throws. “That’s just the bottom line. At the end of the day, we’re getting there. We’re trying to get there – it’s an emphasis every game to get there. You’ve got to make them.
“We have to go to work on them and continue to try to get better.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE VS. GEORGE MASON
- Wednesday: 3 p.m. at Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya in Cancun, Mexico
- Records: Bulldogs 2-2, Patriots 3-2
- TV/radio: CBS Sports Network/KFIG (AM 940)
- Of note: George Mason lost its opener in Cancun to Louisiana Tech, 77-64. The Patriots hit just 33.3 percent of their shots in that loss including 4 of 25 at the 3-point line (16.0 percent). Freshman forward Goanar Mar had a team-high 17 points, hitting 4 of 8 shots and going 9 of 9 at the free throw line. Mar also had eight rebounds, two steals, one assist and one blocked shot.