Fresno State had lost two games in a row and on Saturday was at Wyoming, the hottest team in the Mountain West Conference. That didn’t last long, however. Seconds, is all. The Bulldogs jumped on the Cowboys from the start, checking off all of the boxes on the to-do list and doing it with a flourish in an 80-62 victory at the Arena-Auditorium.
Led by redshirt sophomore Nate Grimes, the Bulldogs hit 54.4 percent of their shots, out-rebounded the Cowboys by nine and came up with 10 steals at the defensive end.
They kept the Cowboys off the foul line and put the clamps on an offense that was putting up close to 80 points per game and that includes forward Justin James, who came in fourth in the league in scoring and had put up 33, 33 and 25 points in his past three games.
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James hit only three of 10 shots, scoring nine points.
“Really good team win,” coach Rodney Terry said. “I thought start to finish really defended hard. We knew we were really challenged today by one of the better scoring teams in our league. That’s a team that scores 80 points a game and puts a lot of pressure on you defensively.
“We knew we were going to have to come in with a lot of energy and activity, and I thought our guys did that for a better part of 40 minutes.”
The 18-point victory was the largest for Fresno State (16-8, 6-5 in the MW) in a Mountain West road game this year – it had won 68-51 at Air Force in 2014. The Bulldogs had only four MW road wins by 10 or more points in its first five-plus years in the league.
And Grimes, who had played no more than 14 minutes in the past three games, was the decisive piece against a Wyoming team that had won four games in a row, the longest active winning streak in the conference.
“His energy and his activity were really good for us,” Terry said.
The 6-foot-8 forward came off the bench and in just 25 minutes on the floor hit eight of 11 shots in scoring a career-high 20 points, scoring at the rim, knocking down mid-range jumpers. Grimes also had 12 rebounds, two steals and one assist.
“I’ve just been working on my mid-range game,” Grimes said. “Coach Terry said he needed an offensive presence and I brought it today. I’m just doing whatever I can for my team. I was just going to let loose and play.”
Point guard Jaron Hopkins had 16 points, four rebounds and six assists and Deshon Taylor had 15 points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals for the Bulldogs, who were coming off losses to Utah State and at Nevada, falling to seventh place in the Mountain West.
Hopkins also took on James, who in conference play was averaging 22.6 points and had scored in double-digits in eight consecutive games.
But against Hopkins and the Bulldogs, James had a difficult time finding a credible shot, much less making one. He was zero of four in 16 first-half minutes as Fresno State kept the Cowboys sputtering along at the offensive end – they hit two of nine shots to start, then three of 11, then five of 15 – and did not score until the 16:03 mark in the second half.
“Jaron did a good job,” Terry said. “James is one of the elite scorers in our league. He can score getting to the basket. He can score shooting threes.
“We did a pretty good job on him.”
Wyoming (15-8, 6-4) scored on as many as three consecutive trips down the floor just three times, hitting just 35.8 percent of its shots, its lowest in conference play.
Fresno State has now held UNLV and Wyoming, first and third in the conference in scoring offense, to 24.4 and 17.9 points below their season averages.
Utah State, averaging 74.0 points per game, got out of the Save Mart Center with a 65-62 victory before the Bulldogs went to Nevada and lost 102-92.
“This league is full of teams that are really good,” Terry said. “Utah State, they’re as tough a team as there is to guard in our league because they play with great pace and they’ve got great guard play, Nevada, same thing. We knew we had to sit down and try to guard and I thought we did that for 40 minutes tonight.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
SAN DIEGO STATE AT FRESNO STATE
- Tuesday: 8 p.m. at Save Mart Center
- TV/radio: CBSSports Network/KFIG (AM ESPN 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Records: Bulldogs 16-8, 6-5 Mountain West; Aztecs 12-8, 4-5
- Of note: The Aztecs played Air Force on Saturday night at Viejas Arena, having lost four of their past five games. San Diego State is 1-4 on the road in Mountain West play, the win coming at Colorado State. The Aztecs are second in the Mountain West in scoring defense (68.8 ppg) and third in field goal percentage defense (41.9), but have allowed 81.0 points per game over the past five games and have allowed opponents to hit 50.2 percent of their shots. The Bulldogs won the first matchup 77-73 at Viejas on Jan. 17, getting 22 points from Deshon Taylor and a double-double from Nate Grimes, who hit all seven of his shots in scoring 15 points with 10 rebounds.