Utah State gets a last-second shot and a win, a 3-pointer by Daron Henson coming with 0.2 remaining on the clock, and just that quickly Fresno State went from one of the hotter teams in the Mountain West with three consecutive wins to the middle of a pack of six teams trying to play their way into a first-round bye at the conference tournament.
And, as a kicker, the Bulldogs will have to do it closing the regular season on the road in four of their final six games and with short rest in one after the government shutdown forced the cancellation of a Jan. 20 game at Air Force.
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San Diego State closes with four home games and its two on the road are at 2-6 Air Force and 0-9 San Jose State. New Mexico, Wyoming, Utah State and UNLV all end with three at home and three on the road.
But the Bulldogs could be going to the right place Wednesday with a game at Nevada, even if a well-rested Wolf Pack is waiting for them at the Lawlor Events Center.
Since moving to the Mountain West, Fresno State has made five trips to Nevada, been an underdog in all five games, been behind the Wolf Pack in the conference standings every time, and won four of those games under some extraordinary circumstances.
This matchup obviously is different than the ones that came before it, and coach Rodney Terry was not discounting the Wolf Pack.
“This team is a good team,” Terry said. “I respect what they do and how they do it. I respect the team that they have because the thing about those guys, you watch them on tape, you watch them over and over, they’re a team that plays with urgency and they’re a team that plays with a lot of want-to. When you’re competing with a team that has urgency and want-to, they almost refuse to lose.
“A lot of that starts with those twins (Caleb and Cody Martin). They know how to play. They’re cerebral players and they play really hard and they make everyone around them play hard. They’re a huge difference in that program.”
But the Bulldogs’ only loss there over the past five seasons was in 2016 when they were without Paul Watson, Karachi Edo, Terrell Carter II and Torren Jones due to injury or illness. Down by as many as 13 points in the second half, they still took the Wolf Pack to overtime before Nevada escaped with a 77- 72 victory.
Last season the Bulldogs got stuck on bus for 10 hours trying to get through snow in Sierra Nevada, arriving in Reno after 10 p.m., got up early the next morning for a shootaround and had a 3 p.m. tip. But they never trailed in an 81-76 victory, hitting 54.9 percent of their shots and outscoring the Wolf Pack 42-24 in the paint and 29-2 off the bench.
In 2015 Marvelle Harris went for 40 points in a 69-66 victory and did it without scoring in the first 7:47 of the game and going through an 11-minute stretch in the second half without a single point. He also did it in a game the Bulldogs hit only 38.6 percent of their shots, with Harris going 14 of 23 (60.9 percent) and his teammates going 8 of 34 (23.5 percent).
In 2014 Nevada point guard Deonte Burton, who hit 75.1 percent of his free throws in his career and finished second in the conference in scoring, missed seven consecutive free throws as the Bulldogs snuck out of town with a 75-67 victory. Cezar Guerrero, who hit only 2 of 9 shots in the game, secured the victory by going 6 of 6 at line in the final 66 seconds.
In 2013 Kevin Foster, not known as a 3-point specialist, hit one from about 28 feet with six seconds remaining to send the game into overtime and the Bulldogs broke a 19-game conference road losing streak with a 69-64 victory.
Fresno State: 15-7, 5-4 in the MW
Nevada: 18-4, 7-1
The line: Wolf Pack -8.5
Traveling, not a violation
It has been a rough travel year for the Bulldogs already and on Tuesday they took a bus to Reno – at least there isn’t any show in the forecast and I-80 is clear through the mountains.
But the athletic department came up with the funding to put them on a charter flight back after the game and to and from a game at Wyoming on Saturday, which cannot be discounted with a Tuesday game against San Diego State at the Save Mart Center.
“That’s big for us,” Terry said. “(Interim athletics director Steve Robertello) did a nice job working that out for us. “It’s a tough week – two really good teams on the road.
“The turnaround is always big, not just for us but for everybody in the country that does it. It allows you to get back, guys can go to class and they can have a regular day the next day. They’re not sitting there in an airport handcuffed by whether or not you make a flight or you don’t make a flight or if a flight is delayed you blow a whole day.”
The Bulldogs the past three seasons have been able to take four charter flights – and they are 6-0 in the game following a charter.
The Bulldogs got thumped in the first meeting with Nevada 80-65 on Dec. 27, 2017 at the Save Mart Center and likely were impacted by a prolonged break over the holidays.
Fresno State had not played in nine days and had one game in 11, that a low-energy walkover over Division II Cal State Monterey Bay.
The Wolf Pack, with its length and athleticism, has been one of the better defensive teams in the conference all season. But the Bulldogs didn’t bring much to that game – they had only nine assists, 13 turnovers and too often settled for some poor 3-point shots, hitting only 5 of 20.
Nevada scored 19 points off those turnovers and held a 19-9 advantage there.
“They did a great job converting our turnovers into points,” Terry said. “We have to value taking care of the ball on the road against these guys. Their urgency and commitment to playing hard has made them a really good defensive team.
“They’re like a San Diego State team in the past where they have guys where they can switch at every position. They try to take away some air space. You just have to try to play on your terms, the way you want to play.”
Fresno State does have players who have shot the ball well at Lawlor Events Center, starting with senior guard Jahmel Taylor. In that overtime loss in 2016, he came off the bench and hit 4 of 7 shots from the 3-point line in a breakout performance.
To that point Taylor, a mid-year transfer from Washington, had played in eight games, scored in only two of them and was on the floor for just 6.4 minutes per game.
Over the next seven games he hit 58.1 percent of his shots from the 3-point line as the Bulldogs made a run into the NCAA Tournament.
FRESNO STATE AT NEVADA
- Wednesday: 8 p.m. at Lawlor Events Center
- Webcast/radio: CBSSports Network/KFIG (AM 940)
- Records: Bulldogs 15-7, 5-4 Mountain West; Wolf Pack 18-4, 7-1
- Of note: The Wolf Pack has not played since a 104-103 overtime loss at Wyoming on Wednesday when it choked away an undefeated start to Mountain West play. Nevada, the third-best free throw shooting team in the league, hit only 7 of 15 foul shots in the final five minutes of regulation and the overtime. The Wolf Pack had made their first 23 free throws. The loss snapped a streak of 13 consecutive Mountain West wins and seven consecutive conference road wins – the Wolf Pack were one win away from tying both marks. Nevada won the first matchup with Fresno State, 80-65 at the Save Mart Center on Dec. 27, 2017. Kendall Stephens led the Wolf Pack in that game with 19 points, hitting 6 of 10 shots including 5 of 7 at the 3-point line. Caleb Martin had a double-double with 18 and 10.