Since joining the Mountain West Conference, there is one men’s basketball team that Fresno State has not managed to beat. The one that will be at Save Mart Center on Saturday night — New Mexico.
And while that is sure to rankle, it is more the way those games have played out than the losses themselves, although the 0-5 record provides a not-too-subtle hint that it has not been good for the Bulldogs.
Four of the five losses have come by double digits, an average of 14.4 points. The Lobos have hit 50.4% of their shots and hold a decisive advantage on the boards. They have averaged 10 offensive rebounds and 76.8 points per game, considerably higher than the 61 the Bulldogs allowed over the 2012-13 season, the 70.5 in 2013-14 and the 66.4 thus far in 2014-15.
New Mexico no longer has Kendall Williams or the bigs Cameron Bairstow or Alex Kirk, but that didn’t much matter the first time around this season. The Lobos, who come in scuffling through a seven-game losing streak, hit 59% of their shots in a game they won 76-64 on Dec. 31.
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“Since we’ve been in this league, New Mexico has kind of done what they want to us,” said guard Marvelle Harris, who scored 19 points in the first matchup this season. “We want to come out and show that we’re a team that you have to expect a game out of, don’t expect an easy win.”
But payback is barely a factor for the Bulldogs in what is being billed as a Black Out game. The home team will be wearing their black uniforms and is asking fans to match. Students will get another chance to enter a drawing for one of four $10,000 prizes, two to be won at the final men’s and women’s basketball games at Save Mart Center.
Fresno State (13-15, 8-7) can clinch sixth place in the conference and a first-day bye at the Mountain West Tournament with a victory and a UNLV loss to Wyoming (the Rebels lost the first meeting at Arena-Auditorium in Laramie).
And it can gain an air of legitimacy for the stretch run and into the postseason. The Bulldogs have the Lobos, host Air Force and finish at Boise State.
After a rough start to the season, when point guard Cezar Guerrero was ineligible and guard Julien Lewis and forward Alex Davis were coming back from injuries, the Bulldogs are closing. Coupling the 64-59 victory over Wyoming this past Wednesday with a win over New Mexico would spur momentum.
“Our last two games, even though we didn’t come out with a victory at Utah State, we played good basketball,” Harris said. “Right now we are playing our best basketball and this is the time you want to be playing your best basketball. I feel like at the perfect time, we all clicked and we all realized what we want and what we have to do to get it.”
But there are some difficult matchups waiting — Deshawn Delaney and Sam Logwood on the perimeter, the 7-footer Obij Aget and 6-8 Devon Williams. Hugh Greenwood burned the Bulldogs for 16 points in the first meeting, scoring 16 points while taking only six shots.
The Lobos might have lost seven in a row, but all of the key players that were on the floor on New Year’s Eve at The Pit in Albuquerque will be there again. Finishing won’t be easy.
“Greenwood has always been really good against us and their physicality has always been a problem for us rebounding the basketball. This is a really good challenge for us,” Bulldogs coach Rodney Terry said.
“We’re going to do what we’ve done to this point right now. We’re going to take it possession by possession. We have to guard hard; we have a team that comes in here that will put a lot of pressure on you in transition; they can really push the ball in transition up the floor. They have good size. They’re going to challenge us from a physical standpoint. It’s just going to get back to what we’ve had to do over the last few games. We have to work the game for 40 minutes. These guys beat us double-digits up there at their place and they’ve lost maybe one player since we played. They have their entire team back. We know we’ll have our hands full.”