Fresno State had been ripped up for 38-plus minutes. The Bulldogs had trouble staying on the ball, got burned on the pick and roll and left shooters open at the 3-point line.
Utah State went on to an 85-79 victory on Saturday at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum in Logan, but even with the Aggies en route to a season high in scoring, the Bulldogs were in with a chance late.
They closed into a double-digit deficit and were in a one-possession game with a minute and change to go and in need of a stop. Just one stop. But given all that had come before it, it should be no surprise that they didn’t get it, that the Aggies got a wide open look on a 3-pointer and guard Darius Perkins buried it from the right corner and that was about it.
It gave coach Stew Morrill his 400th victory at Utah State and dropped the Bulldogs to 7-7 in the Mountain West Conference, where they are closer to the team behind them than the one in front in the race to avoid a first-day game next month at the league tournament. They are sixth, the cutoff point, two games behind the Aggies and one ahead of UNLV with four games remaining.
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“We were right where we needed to be,” Fresno State coach Rodney Terry said. “From an offensive standpoint, we did a great job attacking them all night long whether they were in man or zone. It was our defense tonight. We didn’t have our A-game defensively, especially with our one-on-one defense. That’s where they created a lot of scoring opportunities for themselves.
“Our ball-screen defense has been pretty good for the better part of the year and tonight we weren’t very good with our ball-screen defense.”
The shot by Perkins, who was averaging 9.3 points but hit 6 of 10 shots including 5 of 8 from the 3-point line in scoring 19, started with a ball screen that had the Bulldogs in a scramble mode. JoJo McGlaston used a screen by Elston Jones to get into the lane and, with the Bulldogs coming to help, he kicked it across to a wide-open Perkins.
The 3-pointer, with 48 seconds left, was the last make for the Aggies, who hit 16 of 25 over the final 20 minutes (64%) — 6 of 11 from distance.
Utah State (16-10, 9-5) scored its final five points from the free-throw line, the 85 points eclipsing its production in a 89-84 loss at USC , a 91-81 loss to Brigham Young and its most in a Mountain West game by eight, that in a 79-77 overtime loss at UNLV.
With few stops, Fresno State was hard-pressed to keep up or cut into the Aggies’ lead, which ballooned to 63-51 with 9:11 remaining. The Bulldogs were moving the ball, with 15 assists on 28 baskets. They hit 49.1% of their shots including 17 of 31 (54.8%) in the second half.
Julien Lewis had a team-high 21 points and Marvelle Harris 17, including the 3-pointer that got them within 78-75 with 1:18 to go.
But they were burned too often at the defensive end by the Aggies, who went into the game shooting 47%, including 43.6% at the 3-point line, in their conference games to lead the Mountain West.
“We had some positives,” Terry said. “We made free throws tonight (16 of 18, after 12 of 24 vs. Colorado State). We took care of the basketball. We shared the basketball, so we had a lot of positives. We just have to continue to work and continue to finish.”
“Those guys, what they have done over the course of the season and in the conference, is shoot the 3 really well and they shoot the 3 really well at home and we let them do that tonight. Their guys that can catch and shoot made 3’s — Perkins and (Julion) Pearre — they made 3’s. We knew going into this game we had to get those guys to play off the dribble and they did both. They did a good job of playing off the dribble and catch-and-shoot. I give them a lot of credit.”