Fresno State gets Utah State on Saturday at the Save Mart Center. The visiting Aggies righted themselves Wednesday with a 22-point victory over Air Force.
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Utah State had lost four in a row in a rough stretch that included road games at Nevada and at Boise State and was even rougher on Koby McEwen, who had put up 28 points in an 81-79 overtime victory over the Bulldogs on Jan. 3 in Logan.
What followed was an unsightly run for a guard who can score shooting 3-pointers, driving to the basket and getting to the foul line. McEwen had put up 20 or more points in three of the previous four games and four of the past six.
Then came the losing streak and McEwen’s woes:
▪ Colorado State: 5 of 17 field goals, 1 of 8 on 3-pointers, 11 points
▪ at Nevada: 3 of 12, 2 of 7, 10 points
▪ at Boise State: 5 of 11, 1 of 5, 11 points
▪ Wyoming: 3 of 14, 1 of 8, 17 points
McEwen was 2 of 7 and 0 of 3 in the first half of the Aggies’ victory over Air Force, extending his personal skid to 18 of 61 (29.5 percent) and 5 of 31 (16.1 percent) before scoring 14 points in the second half and finishing with 20 against a team that is ranked 10th in the Mountain West in field goal percentage defense and last in 3-point field goal percentage defense.
But that second half sets up an interesting call for coach Rodney Terry and the Bulldogs.
In the game at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum, Ray Bowles Jr. started out defending guard Sam Merrill and at halftime was put on McEwen, who had hit 5 of 8 shots including 3 of 5 from the 3-point line in scoring 14 first-half points.
McEwen was 3 of 8 and 0 of 3 at the 3-point line in the second half, and scored his final four points in the overtime.
“Ray did a really good job in the second half,” Terry said after that game. McEwen “is a big guard and we had to find someone who could sit down and guard him. I thought Ray did a nice job accepting that challenge.”
So on Saturday does Bowles get McEwen or does he get Merrill, who is leading Utah State in scoring with 15.8 points per game, is fifth in the Mountain West in field goal percentage (52.6) and third in 3-point field goal percentage (44.4)?
Bowles, who had an answer when the Bulldogs were looking for a crushing perimeter defender, likely starts on one or the other. But Terry made it clear the Bulldogs will have to make it a team effort guarding Utah State’s guards.
“They’re two of the better scoring guards in our league,” he said. “Ray did a good job, but our perimeter guys know … our last game (against UNLV) was a heavy frontcourt game with two good guards that could score and this is a game with two good guards who can score with two post guys that can shoot the ball.
“It’s kind of reverse roles from the last game, but high level. It’s going to have to be by committee. It’s going to have to be a number of guys that have to try to guard those guys. We have to contain those guys – you’re not going to stop them. They’re going to score some baskets, we just can’t let them go crazy.”
Fresno State last out held UNLV, the top scoring team in the conference, 24.4 points under its season scoring average in a 69-63 victory. The Rebels also were at 0.926 points per possession, their lowest in conference play.
The Bulldogs also held Boise State and San Diego State under their season scoring average, and Bowles has played a role in that with his defensive presence.
In the victory at San Diego State he spent much of the game working against Trey Kell, who had given the Bulldogs fits the past two seasons.
Kell went into that game having hit only 37.9 percent of his shots and averaging 10.5 points per game in his career. But he had hit 53.1 percent of his shots and averaged 18.5 points in the previous four regular-season games against Fresno State.
In the Bulldogs’ 77-73 victory, Kell was 4 of 10 and scored 14 points.
“Ray is a big guard and he really helps us defend guys a certain way,” Terry said. “He takes a lot of pride in his defense. He has always thought himself as a defender and I think it really sets the tone for the way he’s going to play.
“His want-to is really good and then knowing who he’s guarding in terms of his preparation and trusting his preparation. He takes a lot of pride in it.”
Utah State: 11-11, 4-5 in the MW
Fresno State: 15-6, 5-3
The line: Bulldogs -9.5
They’re layups …
Fresno State had a 10-point lead inside of four minutes to play in that overtime loss at Utah State, and blew it in a number of ways. None stand out more than missed opportunities close in.
While the Bulldogs hit 28 of 53 shots in regulation (52.8 percent) and 32 of their 62 shots in the game (51.6 percent), they missed an inordinate number of shots right at the rim.
On layups the Bulldogs were 16 of 32 and of the five misses in the overtime period three were on shots going to the basket.
Fresno State hit the same percentage at the 3-point line, where it was 7 of 14.
In those final four minutes of regulation, after taking a 69-59 lead with 4:12 to go on a layup by Deshon Taylor off an assist by Jahmel Taylor, the Bulldogs’ possessions went like this: missed layup, missed layup, missed 3-pointer, missed layup, missed foul shot on the front end of a 1-and-1.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
UTAH STATE AT FRESNO STATE
- Saturday: 4 p.m. at Save Mart Center
- Webcast/radio: Mountain West Network/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Records: Bulldogs 15-6, 5-3 Mountain West; Aggies 11-11, 4-5
- Of note: The Aggies snapped a four-game losing streak with a 71-49 victory over Air Force on Wednesday. Utah State had started Mountain West play 3-1 including an 81-79 overtime victory over Fresno State on Jan. 3 at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum. The Bulldogs were up by 10 points with 4:12 remaining in that game, but the Aggies rallied behind Koby McEwan. The Utah State guard scored a game-high 28 points. Utah State is 1-7 on the road this season, 1-3 away from home in conference play. The defense was suspect in that four-game losing streak – the Aggies allowed 80-plus points in losses to Colorado State, at Nevada and to Wyoming. Nevada and Wyoming can score, but Colorado State started the week ranked ninth in the Mountain West in scoring and last in field goal percentage and 3-point field goal percentage.