Fresno State started a basketball game with Deshon Taylor on the bench for the first time in a long time in Saturday’s game against Air Force.
It was a coach’s decision and obviously there was a message in it for the junior guard, who, coach Rodney Terry said, had been trying to do too much and pressing, his efficiency at the offensive end slipping.
“Trust your teammates,” Terry said. “He did a great job of that last year. Obviously, he plays with a good motor and he’s aggressive and we don’t want to take his aggressiveness away, but we want to be smart in how we attack.
“Any time you have that type of situation, what you’re trying to do is you’re trying to get him to understand, ‘Hey, this is how we’re trying to do things and this is what our expectations are for you and we want you to be completely bought-in and he is bought-in. He’s not fighting it. Deshon is a great teammate and he really wants to win, sometimes to a fault. He’s going to be better for it. I thought he responded really well to the challenge of what we were asking him to do, defensively and offensively.”
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Taylor had started all 14 games this season and 29 of the past 30 dating to a Jan. 11, 2017 loss at Air Force.
In between that game and a 71-59 victory over the Falcons on Saturday that got the Bulldogs back even at 1-1 in Mountain West play, he had become one of the most efficient and productive players in the conference.
In 16 games to end the 2016-17 season he took 19.1 percent of the Bulldogs’ shots playing an average of 36.6 minutes and scoring a team-high 20.2 points per game.
In the first 14 games this season he had taken 19.4 percent of their shots while averaging 33.1 minutes and scoring a team-high 18.4 points per game.
Taylor entered Saturday’s game at the first under-16 timeout and said he hit the floor with the same mindset as if he had started.
He played 30 minutes, scoring a game-high 18 points with four rebounds and four assists. His offensive rating for the game was 124 – a significant improvement over his performances against Oregon (81) and Nevada (111). It had been lower only six times when playing more than 25 minutes in a game since becoming a fixture in the starting lineup.
“I think when you look back at Nevada, when you look back at Oregon, I thought there were times that we tried to do too much, and they know this,” Terry said.
The top five players in the Mountain West by percentage of a team’s points scored:
▪ Ryan Welage (San Jose State) 27.2
▪ Prentiss Nixon (Colorado State) 23.2
▪ Deshon Taylor (Fresno State) 23.1
▪ Hayden Dalton (Wyoming) 22.5
▪ Caleb Martin (Nevada) 21.8
Welage, Nixon, Dalton and Martin all have taken a higher percentage of their team’s shot attempts than Taylor.
A step closer
In his second game back from a back injury, point guard Jaron Hopkins hit 4 of 9 shots including his second 3-pointer this season. The best basket most definitely was the last one – an emphatic two-handed dunk over the Falcons’ Lavelle Scottie.
Scottie had secured a rebound off a Bulldogs’ miss, but Hopkins was there waiting to pounce when Scottie tried to get a pass up the floor to Trevor Lyons.
Hopkins came up with the steal around the foul line and with one big bounce went up and dunked the ball and was fouled by the 6-foot-6 Scottie.
Against Nevada, Hopkins had played 22 minutes and hit 1 of 4 shots in scoring five points with eight rebounds. Two of those shots came from the 3-point line and the other two were jump shots – there was nothing going to the rim, no drives, no layups.
In his two best games this season, back-to-back victories over Weber State and at Long Beach State, Hopkins totaled 55 points with 34 on layups or dunks and another 13 at the free throw line.
In the victory over Air Force, that dunk was one of five shots he took at the rim. That is an important piece for Hopkins, and for the Bulldogs’ offense.
Fresno State was better getting into the paint against Air Force, but the competition level obviously was a few levels lower than in the opener against Nevada.
“Strong drives, two-foot plays and putting the ball in the paint have become difficult trends for us over the last couple of games for whatever reason,” Terry said.
“We are going to get better, though. Again, this team has a long way to go and that is the thing that most excites me about this group. We came back and worked extremely hard, probably had one of our hardest practices after the Nevada game, and I thought we got better in the process of doing that. We will continue to work and continue to get better.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE AT UTAH STATE
- Wednesday: 6 p.m. at Dee Glen Smith Spectrum (10,270), Logan, Utah
- Webcast/radio: Mountain West Network (themw.com)/KFIG (AM 940)
- Records: Bulldogs 11-4, 1-1 Mountain West; Aggies 8-7, 1-1
- Of note: The Aggies opened conference play with an 86-72 victory over San Jose State and lost at San Diego State 79-59 Saturday night. Utah State is now 0-5 in road games including a 65-59 loss at Weber State, a team the Bulldogs dispatched at Save Mart Center 83-71. The Aggies have been led by guards Sam Merrill and Koby McEwen, who are averaging 15.0 and 13.1 points per game. McEwen hit 6 of 7 shots including 3 of 4 at the 3-point line in scoring a game-high 22 points when Utah State beat Fresno State 78-65 last season in Logan, their only meeting of the season. The Bulldogs hit a season-low 35 percent of their shots (21 of 60) in that loss.