Terrell Carter II put the question to himself, not long after the Fresno State Bulldogs had returned from a trip to Mexico and the Cancun Challenge.
They were 3-2 when they wanted to be 5-0 and at worst should have been 4-1 and Carter, in the starting lineup the first four of those games, had not played up to expectations.
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He found foul trouble, again, in a win over Cal State-Northridge and a loss at Arkansas. He had yet to exert a considerable presence at the offensive end, scoring no more than five points in any game. He had played as few as 13 minutes and as many as 20 only once, that in a 31-point rout of NCAA Division III UC Santa Cruz.
“I just reevaluated myself and asked, ‘Did I do everything that I possibly could to say that I’m a senior and I’m helping my team?’ Carter said. “I wasn’t.”
The Bulldogs’ 6-foot-10 senior is now, though.
Carter went back to the basics, put in more time in the gym, continued to take care of his body; kept his weight down and his conditioning level up. He sought counsel from some former teammates, Marvelle Harris, Julien Lewis, veteran guys who had crushed their senior seasons. The Bulldogs and coach Rodney Terry that year won 25 games and the Mountain West Conference Tournament, nine in a row there at the end, in advancing to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2001.
“Oh,” Carter smiled. “I also was challenged by my coach, on top of that.”
“Coach Terry challenged me. He was like, ‘You’re a senior now. It’s not like you can wait. It’s now or never.’ “
Now the Bulldogs have won seven in a row starting with a 79-73 victory over George Mason in Cancun – the first game that Carter came off the bench, a role that he has adjusted to and started to thrive in.
Coming off the bench he is playing an average of three more minutes per game than he was as a starter. He is averaging 10.7 points, up from 4.5. His shooting percentage is 73.7, up from 44.4.
The first game back he scored 12 points and had a season-high seven rebounds in a victory over Montana State and over the past four he has hit 24 of 30 shots in averaging 15.3 points per game, along with forward Bryson Williams providing an inside presence that has fueled an offense that has put up 82.7 points per game in their winning streak.
“He’s smoking right now,” Terry said. “Over the past four or five games he has been terrific. He really has. He really has responded well. Ever since we got back from Mexico he has been the guy we thought we’d start the year with.
“He’s moving as well as he has moved ever in ball-screen defense. That was probably one of his issues at certain points in his career. He’s moving better outside his area than he ever has. And now he’s getting to a point where he’s trusting his ‘hang your hat’ moves and is not all over the place in the post.”
Carter, battling his weight his first three seasons at Fresno State, had played just 10.0, 10.3 and 14.7 minutes per game, averaging no more than the 5.6 points or 2.7 rebounds that he put up last season as a junior. There was a game last year at Wyoming where he fouled out in five minutes, another in a loss to Prairie View A&M where he fouled out in eight without taking even a single shot.
“If you look over the past three or four games, his minutes are up to almost 24, 25 minutes a game,” Bulldogs assistant coach Byron Jones said. “That’s really helping him out on getting up and down the floor and staying out of foul trouble because he’s able to move on to the next play a lot better.
“I’m really proud of how he has come along in that area. Obviously, the growth of a guy being in a program for four years, you love to see some success and especially as a senior to see that success out of him.”
There is no regret, Carter said, that the pieces didn’t come together more quickly.
“I talk to the older guys all the time – Marvelle, Julien, Cullen (Russo), all those guys. They’re like, ‘This is what I didn’t do and this is what you probably should do.’ Talking to them, it just reinforces it’s not a redshirt, it’s not, ‘I have one more year.’ There’s a next game and this is the last season.”
The best of that advice?
“Honestly, live in the moment. Don’t regret anything you do – it’s going to happen regardless,” Carter said. “And, just keep playing.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
OREGON AT FRESNO STATE
- Saturday: 3 p.m. at Save Mart Center
- TV/radio: CBSSN/KFIG (940 ESPN)
- Records: Bulldogs 9-2, Ducks 8-3
- Of note: The Ducks will be playing their first game outside the state of Oregon, having played eight on the home floor at Matthew Knight Arena and three at the PK80 Invitational at the Moda Center in Portland. Oregon beat Portland State 95-84 on Wednesday for its third victory in a row, a streak that includes a 95-65 win over Colorado State. The Ducks are 1-1 against Mountain West programs, having lost at home to Boise State 73-70 on a last-second 3-pointer fired from midcourt by Lexus Williams. In the victory over Portland State, Elijah Brown scored 22 points and Payton Pritchard and Kenny Wooten both added 18.