Nevada was at the rim from Minute One, driving the basketball, getting shots in the lane or to the foul line, crashing the offensive boards to set up second-chance opportunities. One of the worst shooting teams in Division I, the Wolf Pack, particularly early on, were not taking too many jump shots, which certainly makes sense for a team ranked 350th of 351 shooting 3-pointers.
Fresno State withstood all that fairly well, though it was those points in the paint and those free throws that had Nevada in tight and then in the lead through the first part of a second half in which the score was tied eight times and the lead changed hands five.
But there was a point the Bulldogs had enough — 3:24 to go, Nevada with a free throw to tie the score coming out of a timeout. And from there the Pack got nothing done inside, there was a big 3-pointer from Marvelle Harris and a layup off a block and the Bulldogs came away with a 66-62 victory Saturday at Save Mart Center that sent them into their toughest road test of the year off a win.
“We came to the huddle,” coach Rodney Terry said, “and we said, ‘Hey, right now, we have to gut-up. We have to stop them. They have 21 offensive rebounds; we have to keep them off the glass. Whatever you have to do it, we have to get it done.’
“And at the end of the day, players made plays.”
The Bulldogs (10-10, 5-2) over that final three-plus minutes contested shots in close without fouling and got huge blocks from Karachi Edo and Paul Watson. Up 58-57 with 2:37 to go, they got stops.
Eric Cooper Jr. missed a 3 and A.J. West, who had 11 of the Wolf Pack’s 21 offensive rebounds, missed trying to stick it back through a tangle of arms.
The next trip down West missed in close, got the rebound, and missed again, but Watson got a piece of the ball and it was pulled down by Julien Lewis.
“Coach said we have to get it done,” said Watson, who led the Bulldogs with 18 points, had a career high-tying nine rebounds and a career-high five blocks. “That’s what it all comes down to. We can’t talk about it anymore, we just have to go out and do it — and that’s what we managed to do.
“Just very-well contested shots, trying not to give them a good look around the rim because they do have some pretty good players who can finish around the rim. Me and Karachi tried to come over and make plays and try to finish out possessions with rebounds.”
Harris, who scored 10 of his 15 points in the second half, coolly hit a 3 coming out of a timeout to put the Bulldogs up 61-57 with 57 seconds remaining.
“It felt good when I let it go,” he said. “When I let it go, I knew it was going in.”
But the barrage inside wasn’t over — Fresno State still had to deal with West down low, Tyron Criswell and Marqueze Coleman attacking the rim and Cooper, who took 12 of their 18 shots from the 3-point line. Coleman had a shot blocked by Edo on a drive to the basket, Cezar Guerrero pushing the ball ahead to Harris for a layup. The Bulldogs led 63-57. But Nevada got one of two free throws from Coleman, then a questionable two points when Edo was called for goaltending on a floater by Coleman left of the basket.
Down the final three minutes, Fresno State contested every shot except for a freebie dunk with 2 seconds to go. Nevada (6-12, 2-4), which had been there and been ahead when attacking inside, hit just 2 of its final 10 shots. Six of those misses were right at the rim, though contested.
The Bulldogs finished with a season-high tying seven blocks (they also had seven in victories against Utah State and Cal Poly) and allowed Nevada to make only 10 of 35 shots in the second half (28.6%).
They take that into next week into road games at San Diego State on Tuesday and at Colorado State on Saturday, all three teams tied for second behind Wyoming in the conference at 5-2.
“I think it gets back to trusting teammates,” Terry said. “No one is going to play this game perfectly on either end of the floor. If a guy gets blown-by defensively, I think at this point right now our guys trust some of our shot-blocking guys. Paul did a great job of blocking shots tonight. Karachi did a great job of helping a teammate out as well. It’s about having each other’s backs right now, and I think our guys are doing a nice job with that.”