For 12-plus minutes, Fresno State was right there. In a matchup against Colorado State at the Mountain West Conference Tournament, the Bulldogs were hanging in on the boards, contesting shots and forcing a few turnovers.
J.J. Avila, as bad a matchup for them as there is in the league, had eight points and two rebounds. Still, they were hanging in and competing, down just three. But when Avila landed awkwardly after a miss in the lane and went down and out with 6:46 to go in the half, helped to the sidelines by two teammates, things went bad in a hurry … for the Bulldogs.
With Avila on the bench, the Rams — the only team in the conference to beat Fresno State twice during the regular season — started firing a barrage from the 3-point line and they all were landing, 6 of 7 shots and five in a row to end the half to fuel a big run and carry third-seeded Colorado State into the semifinals with a 71-59 victory over No. 6 Fresno State at the Thomas & Mack Center.
It didn’t seem to matter who was taking those shots. They went down, no matter that Colorado State was ranked sixth of 11 in conference games in 3-point field-goal percentage.
“We did some things differently going into this game — we had played them twice and played 40 minutes of man to man both times,” said Bulldogs coach Rodney Terry, whose team finishes 15-17. “Zone worked for us early. We tried to change the rhythm of the way they play a little bit. But give them credit. They made some shots and then we were back on our heels. But I liked the way we came back out to start the (second) half. Guys competed. We sat down and said, ‘Hey, we have to sit down and guard man to man now,’ and I thought our guys did that.”
Gian Clavell, who had hit just 29.2% of his 72 shots from the 3-point line in conference play, knocked down the first one. The next trip down, he had one lined up from deep in the right corner and while taking the shot was fouled by forward Alex Davis closing out late. Joe De Ciman, hitting a solid 37.7% from distance, then knocked one down, followed by one from John Gillon and another by Daniel Bejarano and another by forward Stanton Kidd and the last of the half by Gillon.
The only miss in that stretch down the end of the half was by Gillon — right at the rim.
“Seeing Avila go down, you never want to see (that happen to) a good player,” Bulldogs forward Paul Watson said. “It’s always nice to play against a team when they’re at their best. You don’t want to win a game when one of the key players on the other team is down. At that point I feel that Colorado State, they picked up the intensity down the line. The bench, they came off and picked up for Avila and they played harder, they played more intense.”
Colorado State, which will play No. 2 San Diego State in the second semifinal Friday with No. 1 Boise State and No. 4 Wyoming in the first, hit 8 of 13 shots from the 3-point line in the half and finished 9 of 21, going 1 of 8 after putting the Bulldogs in a big hole. Its high this season is 13 in a victory over Charleston Southern and matched in a win over Nevada.
“I think every time we have played (Fresno State) we’ve done that,” Bejarano said. “Like (coach Larry Eustachy) said, we really respect them. It’s hard to beat a team twice, let alone three times and they’ve beaten every team in our league but us, so they were just falling in. … We got too trey happy in the second half, but we just found a way to win.”
The Rams missed their first shot of the second half — Bejarano from the 3-point line. And Fresno State, down 40-22 at the half, continued to work the game. The Bulldogs got back to within 47-41 when Marvelle Harris knocked down a 3-pointer with 13:02 remaining.
But that was as close as they could get, the Rams (27-5) putting together an 11-2 run to get away again.
Harris, the Bulldogs’ All-Mountain West first-team selection, was lost with 3:34 remaining when the junior took a hard fall on a drive and needed assistance to get to the locker room. Harris, who hit 1 of 10 shots and finished with four points, was evaluated by team medical personnel but there was no immediate word on his condition.
Guerrero led Fresno State with 16, hitting 6 of 10 before fouling out.
“We missed some key shots that we usually make and that hut us in the beginning,” said Watson, who scored 14 and had six rebounds.