Fresno State has not caught a ton of breaks this season, starting with Julien Lewis and Alex Davis at less than 100% because of injuries and Cezar Guerrero out while ineligible.
But toward the end of a pivotal Mountain West Conference game at Wyoming, the Bulldogs got one, which didn’t exactly make up for everything that has come before it but was key in a 64-59 victory over the Cowboys on Wednesday at Arena-Auditorium in Laramie.
Up by two inside a minute to play, Marvelle Harris put up a shot that came off the rim. But then Davis, who two possessions earlier missed a pair of free throws that could have put the Bulldogs up seven, came crashing down the lane. He had a clear path to the rim and went up to dunk, but did not get a good handle on the ball.
The ball popped into the air and off the glass and on its descent went right through the basket, the Bulldogs emerging with a four-point lead with 18 seconds to go. “To be honest, I didn’t know (where it was), I was just getting ready to jump again and make another attempt to get the rebound and bring it down,” Davis said. “It was just right place at the right time.”
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And it was big for the Bulldogs (13-15, 8-7), who were able to hit 3 of 4 free throws to end it.
“I just saw the ball go through and that’s all that mattered to me. He stepped up and he made a senior play, we know Alex is capable of doing that, and plays like that is what won us the game,” said Harris, who led the Bulldogs with 23 points, hitting 7 of 18 shots including 3 of 6 beyond the 3-point line.
With the victory and a UNLV loss at Utah State a day earlier, Fresno State was able to solidify its hold on sixth place in the Mountain West and a potential first-round bye next month at the conference tournament. With three games remaining in the regular season, including a game against New Mexico on Saturday at Save Mart Center, the Bulldogs are two games behind the Cowboys and Utah State — tied for fourth at 10-5 — and two ahead of the Rebels at 6-9.
And, again, they have refocused their season a bit. Wyoming (21-7, 10-5) had been 16-1 at home and got forward Larry Nance back in the lineup after he had missed four games with mononucleosis. But the Bulldogs gritted their way through a rough game, forcing 14 turnovers and holding a 17-5 advantage in points off turnovers, outrebounding the Cowboys 34-31 and grabbing 12 offensive rebounds that led to a 15-9 advantage in second-chance points.
“That was a heck of a team win. Everybody came in and did their job and stayed together,” coach Rodney Terry said. “We knew coming in here that they would have a good crowd, they always have every time we’ve come up here. Our guys, I thought we did a good job over (at Utah State) to be honest … in terms of playing in a hostile environment and playing together, not splintering.
“Early in the year, we would have splintered a little bit and stuff. But guys stayed together, kept working the game and got some key stops when we needed to get then and then we converted some plays ourselves down the stretch.”
The Bulldogs were down 54-52 with 3:28 to go when Harris knocked down a 3-pointer to grab a lead. They got a big stop, with Josh Adams missing a 3-pointer. Harris was fouled on the rebound and coming out of a timeout he knocked down two free throws to extend the lead to 57-54.
At the other end, needing a stop, Guerrero stole the ball from Riley Grabau and that led to a layup by Lewis, who had 13 points. Davis missed his free throws, which set up a 3-pointer by Adams and one possession later the follow. “Somehow he was able to get that ball down the hoop and that was a major play for us, it really was,” Terry said.
“I just feel like with this team we’ve always been able to stick together through adversity,” Davis said. “I mean, we started out the season with a lot of injuries and we got through it. Now that we’re back at full strength, we’re starting to get a groove with one another and it’s perfect timing right now. There’s no better time to be playing your best basketball and I think we’re doing that.”