The Fresno State men’s basketball team was up against it going in, if for no other reason than it is tough to turn around 23 points — the margin by which the Bulldogs were beaten by last month at Colorado State.
But they had a chance in the rematch Wednesday night against the Rams — many of them in fact — and just couldn’t get out of their own way, falling 81-73 at Save Mart Center and, really, to some self-inflicted wounds.
After weathering scoring barrages at the start of both halves (the Rams opened the game 13 of 18 and the second half 7 of 8), the Bulldogs worked their way back in and had much going in their favor.
J.J Avila, the Rams’ leading scorer, was in foul trouble and out of the game with 4:41 to go.
The Bulldogs exerted more pressure at the defensive end, extending a stretch in that second half where Colorado State was 0 of 5 shooting, then 1 of 7, then 2 of 12.
They were outrebounded by 11 but were much better thwarting the Rams’ second-chance opportunities and actually outscored them 12-10 after getting stuck on the short end of a 22-1 margin in the game at Fort Collins.
Fresno State (12-14, 7-6 MW) had openings, chances to cut deeper into a lead that was between nine and five points from the 7:30-minute mark into the final minute. And the Bulldogs had chances to make a forward move in the Mountain West Conference standings, starting the day tied with Utah State for fifth place and ending it alone in sixth.
But there was always something that stunted their progress.
“The difference in that stretch and even back to the 12-minute mark, there were some 50-50 balls that were left out there that we didn’t get,” coach Rodney Terry said. “They got to them and we didn’t get them, and that was a difference in the game. You have to get those balls, and even late in possessions we bailed them out on some fouls. We did a great job of defending for right at 33 seconds and the next thing you know we have a foul with 2 seconds or 1 second on the (shot) clock — and that deflates you a little bit over the course of the game when you have those opportunities.
“They’re big plays, difference-makers in the game, and when you don’t get those it puts you back on your heels a little bit again and when you had a chance to gain some momentum, you lost momentum.”
Down seven with the ball after rebounding an Avila miss, the Bulldogs also turned over the ball coming up the floor and then, off a Colorado State turnover, Julien Lewis was called for a charge. Down by eight, Marvelle Harris missed in the paint. Down five, Harris missed again going to the rim.
Then there was the free-throw shooting, which was big for both sides. Fresno State hit just 12 of 24, which really made it difficult to extend runs into the Rams’ lead.
Fresno State had hit 70.1% of its free throws this season, but Harris was 2 of 5, Alex Davis was 5 of 8, Cezar Guerrero was 2 of 4 and Darnell Taylor was 0 of 2.
With Gerry Pollard and the two other officials sending the Rams to the line 23 times in the second half, that made it doubly tough. Terry finally had enough with 23 seconds remaining, getting hit with a technical after a second half after jawing mostly at Pollard.
The Rams (22-5, 9-5) scored 14 of their last 19 points on free throws.
“It was tough, because you like to try to adapt and adjust as the game goes along and it was really hard to do that consistently,” Terry said. “You never want to go into the game thinking you have to be the official and try to be an official. You don’t want to be an official. I’m trying to coach my team and try to do what I have to do, but I’m going to fight for my guys. If my guys are giving me their effort and they’re working hard out there and we don’t feel like it’s consistent on both ends, I’m going to battle for them.
“That’s who I am and that’s what I going to do. If I get thrown out of the game, I get thrown out of the game. All you ask for is consistency. Just be consistent on both ends of the floor and let us adapt and adjust to the way the game is being officiated.”
The Bulldogs couldn’t, and when given their opportunities at the free-throw line couldn’t cut deeper into the Colorado State lead. While the Bulldogs made only 9 of 17 in the second half, the Rams were 20 of 23.