The bottom line is the one that matters and that was big for Fresno State, which crushed an eight-game winning streak that Boise State had working Saturday with a 70-64 victory at the Save Mart Center.
But that final only points out how many gray areas there can be among the numbers in the box score, and guard Julien Lewis made sure they stayed that way, in the background, when it most mattered.
Derrick Marks, the Mountain West Conference’s leading scorer, had 31 points, on 11-of-17 shooting including 4 of 5 at the 3-point line and 6 of 8 on free throws. Big game.
In the game’s final 8 minutes, however, Marks got little to nothing and that was the difference for the Bulldogs, who played one of their best defensive halves of the season on a night they were honoring former player and coach Jerry Tarkanian, who died earlier in the week.
On Marks, the Bulldogs started to double off ball screens. They did their best to limit touches around the paint. And when he gave up the basketball, they did their best to make sure he couldn’t get it back.
The guard, averaging 19.5 points (and 22.2 in conference games), had pushed his Saturday total to 26 when he beat everyone down the floor for a dunk off a Bulldogs miss with 8:38 to go, pushing Boise State up 56-52. But he made only one basket the rest of the way and the Broncos broke, with Marks unable to get the ball much less a shot.
Lewis was in the thick of it the whole time.
“I guarded a lot of tough players when I was at UT,’ said Lewis, a transfer from Texas. “I guarded a lot of tough players, a lot of players who are in the NBA. So guarding Marks, I treated him the same way here. I’m going to treat every single player I guard the same way. He’s a good player and he did what he does. He gets his shots and he knows how to score. But (down the stretch), I just tried to contain him the best way that I can.
“The last part of the game, coach wanted to keep it out of his hands a little bit. So I no-catched him, denied him the whole time. I denied him and Emmanuel (Owootoah) did a great job also coming in and helping me doing the same thing.”
Boise State (18-7, 8-4), which came in leading the conference with 1.18 points per possession, hit just 1 of its last 7 and 2 of its final 11 shots. It also turned over the ball four times and ended up with just 22 points in the second half — during the Broncos’ eight-game winning streak, they had put up an average of 39.6 points in the second half.
“Those guys, they did it. They dug in,” coach Rodney Terry said. “We made some adjustments at halftime in terms of how we were guarding and our guys, they adjusted every time. Every time we had an adjustment to be made, our guys, they did it.”
The only basket by Marks in the final 8:38 came with 22 seconds to go. But by that time the Bulldogs had started to better attack the Broncos’ long 3-2 zone with 6-9 James Webb III deployed at the top much of the time and flanked by 6-7 Chandler Hutchinson and the 6-3 Marks.
Marvelle Harris, who scored a team-high 24 points, restarted the Bulldogs with a 3-pointer with 6:12 to go that got them within 58-55. The next trip down, Lewis found forward Alex Davis in a hole in the zone for an easy basket.
Fresno State (12-13, 7-5) continued to get good looks, but Lewis missed and Harris missed. Still, the Bulldogs pulled even at 61 when Davis grabbed his own miss and was fouled on the putback, making both free throws, and went ahead as Harris drove hard to the rim for a layup.
After picking up two quick fouls just 1:28 apart in the first half and taking a seat, Davis also was big late in scoring seven points, grabbing two offensive rebounds and doubling off the Broncos’ ball screens.
“He did a great job on the defensive end down there when we started double-teaming Marks on the ball screens,” Terry said. “Alex did a great job of taking the ball out of Marks’ hands and making someone else try to make a play.”
The Broncos had no credible answer, and the Bulldogs remained in the top six in the race, in position to avoid a first-day game at the conference tournament next month, and only two games behind leader San Diego State in the loss column.
“We were really doing an effective job keeping (Marks) out of the post, too,” Terry said. “He’s an effective player in the post and they tried to run some iso stuff with him down there and we tried to deny those and I think the pressure out on the ball did a great job keeping that ball from getting inside as well.
“These guys just kept guarding hard. We went away from our switching defense - we switched a lot in the first half - and we were much better once we kind of locked in and said, ‘Hey, you know what, we’re going to guard (Marks) the way we usually guard him, the way we’ve been playing. We’re going to sit down and see what happens.”