Fresno State had its problems at the foul line in its first five games, checking in at No. 350 in the nation in hitting just 54.2 percent of its free throws.
That, by the way, is 350 out of 351.
But in an 80-67 victory over Montana State on Sunday at the Save Mart Center that wrapped up the Cancun Challenge, the Bulldogs created an opening and took that advantage to its fullest in knocking off the Bobcats.
Fresno State (4-2) hit 32 of 39 foul shots including 29 of 32 in the second half, with Deshon Taylor scoring 11 of a season-high 31 points at the line.
“We were in the 1-and-1 with like 12 minutes left and coach said keep driving the ball, don’t settle for outside jumpers,” said Taylor, who has scored 23 and 31 the past two games.
The Bulldogs didn’t, at one point in the second half scoring 21 of their 27 points at the free-throw line, which obviously was a bit of a switch. They had hit a modest 60 percent of their foul shots in only one of their first five games and were a woeful 5 of 14 in a 2-point loss to Evansville in Cancun.
“Our teams typically have always kind of started slow from the line,” coach Rodney Terry said. “It hasn’t been something we’ve tried to really harp on. We know we’re going to be in a lot of close ball games all year along and we came up a little short against Evansville in that area, but our guys just rolled their sleeves up.
“In trying to fix anything you have to get in there and work at it. I give them a lot of credit in terms of getting in and putting the time in the last couple of days and working on their free throw shooting.”
The Bulldogs, Taylor said, had to knock down 150 at the end of practice on Saturday before leaving the floor.
While that fueled a victory that was the Bulldogs’ 43rd in their past 50 games at the Save Mart Center, with Bryson Williams dealing with some foul trouble they again got some intriguing minutes off the bench from forward Nate Grimes and center Terrell Carter II.
Grimes had not played in the Bulldogs two games in Cancun, but in just 10 minutes scored six points, grabbed seven rebounds including four at the offensive end and blocked three shots. Carter came off the bench for a second game in a row with Sam Bittner entering the starting lineup and in 14 minutes scored 12 points and had seven rebounds, four at the offensive end.
He had only nine rebounds over the past four games and was averaging just 2.8 rebounds this season while playing 16.2 minutes per game.
“Nate has been working hard the last couple of days in practice and he’s a guy that we need to give us depth at that position as well,” Terry said.
“The only thing I ask those guys to do is go out and compete as hard as they can compete.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
WEBER STATE AT FRESNO STATE
- Thursday: 7 p.m. at Save Mart Center
- Records: Bulldogs 4-2, Wildcats 4-2
- Webcast/radio: Mountain West Network/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Of note: Weber State, a Big Sky program, is coming off a 105-52 victory over Black Hills State. It does have a victory over Utah State and at the Island of the Bahamas Showcase James Madison. The Wildcats are led by Jerrick Harding, a 6-foot-1 guard. Harding has hit 61.5 percent of his shots (48 of 78) including 59.1 percent at the 3-point line (13 of 22) in averaging 21.2 points per game. Weber State as a team has hit 53.2 percent of its shots, which could be the product of victories over Black Hills State and West Coast Baptist. The most points the Wildcats have scored against a Division I opponent came in the 73-65 victory over James Madison.