They wanted to break the game down into segments, four minutes at time, survive in some and thrive in others. Fresno State did that for the first four stages of a rematch against San Diego State, which it had beaten three weeks earlier. Four by four by four by four, 16 minutes, the Bulldogs hung in, leading by one and down by as many as four. But when it got away from them, already struggling against the Aztecs’ defense, they couldn’t get back into it.
The Bulldogs stabilized but were never able to repair or overcome their ineffectiveness at the offensive end, the Aztecs taking a 58-47 men’s basketball victory on Tuesday at Viejas Arena.
“We just started playing the way we were playing at the beginning of the season when we started off 1-6. We didn’t play how we’ve been playing the last couple of games that got us on this winning streak,” said Marvelle Harris, who led the Bulldogs with 13 points.
“I think we just broke down as a team, and the leaders didn’t step up. I blame myself. We didn’t step up and take charge and show maturity and, in the blink of an eye, a lead can expand in this league quick.”
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Fresno State had the score tied at 19 with 4:33 remaining when Alex Davis scored at the rim off an assist from Darnell Taylor. But that was the Bulldogs’ last basket of the half — their only make for the final 6:54. Fresno State turned over the basketball three times in that stretch, not against the Aztecs’ pressure up the floor but in the half court. The Bulldogs missed the only two shots they got, Cezar Guerrero and Paul Watson from the 3-point line. The only points they got came from the free throw line when Harris got Malik Pope into the air and drew contact and a foul on a shot from the 3-point line with seven seconds to go.
Harris made the foul shots, but at the break the Bulldogs trailed 32-22.
“We didn’t have great ball movement, we didn’t have great spacing,” Bulldogs coach Rodney Terry said. “They’re a good defensive team, a really good defensive team, one of the best in the country, but our spacing contributed to a lot of our problems tonight and guys not sharing the basketball the way we need to share it. I mean, we go into halftime and we have one assist and eight turnovers.
“They backed the press off. Their pressure up the floor didn’t bother us. It was us with the decision-making and doing what we need to do. (The turnovers) were self-inflicted. They were us not making the right choices and right decisions in terms of the way we play.”
The Bulldogs, who fell to 10-11 and 5-3 and into a tie for fourth place in the Mountain West Conference, had a chance to get it back after halftime. But they couldn’t put it back together.
“We splintered,” Terry said. “We hadn’t done that in a while, but we splintered as a team. You can’t splinter on the road. You have to stay together.”
Fresno State ended up hitting only 19 of 52 shots (36.5%) including 1 of 10 at the 3-point line and had 14 turnovers and only four assists, their fewest since four in a loss to Evansville in the first game at the Gulf Coast Showcase back in November.
And San Diego State (16-5, 6-2), which moved into a tie for first place in the Mountain West with Wyoming losing at Utah State, extended a home winning streak to 26 games by helping tie up the Bulldogs’ offense with its length and athleticism. When Fresno State beat the then-No. 25 Aztecs, the feel-good win in its 5-2 start to MW play, the Bulldogs had handled the defensive pressure much better, turning it over only six times.
“We did a much better job, as opposed to Jan. 3 when we played there, guarding and guarding without fouling and making them feel our presence to where they didn’t have the option to pull back and shoot 3s,” Aztecs’ coach Steve Fisher said.
Since a 69-60 loss to Arizona on Nov. 14, 2013, the Aztecs have allowed opponents playing on their home floor to hit just 34.4% of their shots including 24.4% from the 3-point line. Only four of those teams scored 60 or more points, the high 66 by Boise State last season.
No team this season had hit 60 points and in conference play San Diego State has held Air Force to 49, New Mexico to 42, UNLV to 47 and now the Bulldogs to 47.
“We were right where we needed to be — it was a one-possession game,” Terry said. “We were getting stops and doing what we needed to do, but you can’t have those types of collapses, especially on the road.”