Fresno State had a couple of problems on Tuesday night at UNLV, including one that the Bulldogs have lugged around since the start of the season, which is their ability to make shots.
They have shooters, and scorers, and good ones at that. But they have not had consistent success with either to this point, ranking eighth of 11 in the Mountain West in field-goal percentage and ninth from the 3-point line.
The other issue was more opponent specific, dealing with the length of the Rebels whether they were in zone or in man, and one coupled with the other made the going very difficult for the road team.
The Bulldogs had one big run, slicing deep into a double-digit deficit that was nearing 20 points to cause some consternation on the UNLV bench and uneasiness among a good portion of the 12,384 at the Thomas & Mack Center. But they were not able to sustain it, missing some chances around the rim that stunted their momentum and that led to one too many scoring droughts to overcome in a 73-61 loss, dropping them to 6-5 and sixth place in conference play.
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“We had opportunities,” coach Rodney Terry said. “But they have something to do with that in terms of their shot-blocking ability. … We have to stay focused and finish some shots that we had right at the rim and we didn’t. They do a great job of altering shots even when they’re not blocking shots, but you just have to stay focused and you have to stay with your shot all the way through the rim.”
Fresno State got to within eight at 57-49 with 7:31 to go on a jump shot by Julien Lewis but made only two field goals the rest of the way. The Bulldogs got a layup by Jerrod Patton with 50 seconds to go and a 3-pointer by Lewis with 5 seconds remaining, neither meaning much to the outcome.
They also opened the game hitting one of their first 11 shots, had stretches where they were 0 of 6 and 1 of 6 and 0 of 4. Sliced up any way, it was not good enough.
The Bulldogs hit 20 of 54 shots (37%), the eighth time in their 11 conference games that they have failed to hit 40% of their shots. At the 3-point line, they were 5 of 14 (35.7%).
They navigated the zone very well, got touches in the paint. But the Rebels’ length — they start 6-11 forward Christian Wood, 6-10 center Goodluck Okonoboh and two 6-6 guards in Patrick McGaw and Rashad Vaughn along with Cody Doolin — made any shot in the lane a challenge.
Lewis led the Bulldogs with 16 points and forward Karachi Edo had a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
“We got the ball right where we wanted,” Terry said. “We knew coming in that the middle was going to be wide open. You got the ball in the middle of their zone, you had the option to shoot the basketball. We had guys in the short corner ready. We got those opportunities. I thought we did such a good job of attacking their zone; they had to go back to man. But at the end of the day, you have to finish those.”
Fresno State (11-13, 6-5) couldn’t consistently finish, the Rebels blocking 11 shots and altering others.
That advantage played for the Rebels at the offensive end, as well.
Wood had 27 points and 19 rebounds, nine coming at the offensive end. The Bulldogs’ bigs were in foul trouble from the start, forward Paul Watson picking up two quick fouls, followed by Alex Davis, who fouled out for the sixth time in 16 games against Division I opponents. When Davis went out with 6:21 to go, fouling Wood on a shot, it started to turn the wrong way on them.
“We were coming for it; we were coming to take the lead. We just needed three stops in a row, three stops in a row,” Edo said. “That’s all we were thinking about.”
Wood hit two free throws on the foul by Davis, dunked off an offensive rebound and scored at the rim off a Fresno State turnover, then dunked again off another turnover.
And the Bulldogs couldn’t find an answer.
“Momentum plays,” Terry said. “There were big momentum swings there. We had the opportunity to have momentum swings to put them back on their heels, but we were playing catch-up all night because we weren’t able to capitalize on some of those opportunities (earlier in the game), even on some of the broken plays where we got the ball and had a chance to play in the open court, we didn’t capitalize on the opportunities and when you’re on the road you have to do that.”
Before the game, the crowd gave a round of applause for former Fresno State and UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian, who remains hospitalized in critical condition. Some fans brought signs that read “Pray for Tark.”