Fresno State is back at it Wednesday, taking a two-game winning streak to The Event Center at San Jose State, which has been the Bulldogs’ own house of horrors the past two seasons.
The Bulldogs lost there 69-62 last season when turning the ball over a season-high 23 times – the Spartans turning those errors into 29 points.
Fresno State lost there 65-53 in 2016 when shooting just 34.4 percent this against a team that allowed opponents to hit 46.0 percent and ranked last in the conference in field-goal percentage defense.
“They’re hard to beat over there,” coach Rodney Terry said. “It’s a hard place to play. We know that. We can attest to that. We have to go play for 40 minutes.
“Our guys know last year they out-competed us for 40 minutes. They won every 50-50 ball. They won the rebounding battle. They beat us.”
With six games remaining, the Bulldogs have a chance to gain some legitimacy as a contender at the Mountain West Conference Tournament next month, five against teams they already have beaten.
The Bulldogs can end their frustration at San Jose State, if they can build on the two games that has set them up for another late-season run: victories at Wyoming and over San Diego State.
Fresno State racked up 17 steals and forced 31 turnovers in those two games – and the one of many things the Spartans have struggled with this season is turnovers.
“We’re a blue-collar team,” point guard Jaron Hopkins said. “We get after teams in the front court a little bit. We know they’re pretty good offensively, so we’re going to keep doing the same things we have been doing – pressing full court, throw some different defenses at them and hopefully it will rattle them a little bit and get them off their game.”
San Jose State is ranked last in the nation in turnovers per game, averaging 17.4.
The Spartans also have allowed an average of 22.3 points per game off of turnovers in MW play and been outscored there by a stunning 267-99 margin in their 12 games.
That, obviously, includes some huge disparities. The top (or bottom) five differentials in points off turnovers for the Spartans:
▪ 33 points: Utah State, 36-3 in 86-72 road loss.
▪ 27 points: New Mexico, 28-1 in 80-47 road loss.
▪ 24 points: Colorado State, 26-2 in 59-52 home loss.
▪ 19 points: New Mexico, 30-11 in 71-68 home loss.
▪ 18 points: Colorado State, 23-5 in 90-79 road loss.
San Jose State has been a plus in points off turnovers just once – it had a 13-7 advantage in a 76-67 loss at UNLV. The Spartans have been even once as well – they were 11-11 in a 78-71 loss to Air Force. But nine times they have been minus-10 or more.
“We have to bring it to them like we bring it to the best teams,” Hopkins said. “We know we haven’t played our best games up there, but coming into this game we should have a lot of energy.
“We’ve been playing well defensively and defense is the key for our team. Hopefully, we can rely on our defense and offense will come after that.”
It has been a tough place to play, though.
Fresno State has won only two of the past 10 trips to San Jose and in those 10 seasons – the teams did not play in 2013 when the Spartans were in the WAC and had not yet moved to the Mountain West – San Jose State averaged only 3.8 conference wins per year with a high of seven last season and a low of zero in 2015.
The atmosphere in the building is not good – San Jose State in conference play has filled only 32.7 percent of its seats at The Event Center, which is the lowest in the Mountain West but certainly not a feel-good point for Fresno State.
The Bulldogs are ninth, filling only 38.7 percent of the seats at the Save Mart Center. Wyoming is 10th at 36.1 percent, but that’s a 15,000-seat arena in a county that has a population base roughly 10 times smaller than Fresno.
The opponent most years also has not been good – the Spartans set the MW record for most consecutive conference losses with 26 between Feb. 25, 2014 and Jan. 9, 2016, and come into the game having lost 17 in a row including a loss to Utah State in the conference tournament last season.
“If you asked all the coaches in our league about the toughest place to play on the road, we talk about atmosphere and all that stuff, the hardest place is San Jose. It’s not even close,” Terry said. “I say that with respect to those guys. (Coach Jean Prioleau) is trying to do what we tried to do here in our first year – we tried to establish a culture of playing hard and getting after it and they’ve been in every game.”
▪ Fresno State: 17-8, 7-5 in the MW.
▪ San Jose State: 3-20, 0-12.
▪ The line: Bulldogs -12.5.
▪ The Bulldogs have hit better than 50 percent of their shots in three consecutive MW games: 58.2 at Nevada, 54.4 at Wyoming and 52.5 against San Diego State.
They had a three-game streak in 2016, but have never made it four in a row.
San Jose State has allowed MW opponents to hit 46.2 percent of their shots, ranking ninth in the conference.
▪ Hopkins has 11 assists to just three turnovers in the past two games, playing a total of 63 minutes.
Through the Bulldogs’ 5-5 start in MW play, Hopkins had 28 turnovers and 28 assists and, curiously, he had a better assist-to-turnover ratio in the losses than in the wins.
In the five losses he had 18 assists and 16 turnovers; in the five wins he had 10 assists and 12 turnovers.
▪ The Bulldogs are a 12.5-point favorite – they have not been a bigger road favorite since they were a -13 in a game at Montana State in 2006.
▪ The Spartans have lost turning over the ball, a lot. But they also have a loss to New Mexico in which they outrebounded the Lobos 43-19 and had 14 offensive rebounds. Those offensive boards returned only 12 second-chance points, though.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
MEN: FRESNO STATE AT SAN JOSE STATE
- Wednesday: 7 p.m. at Event Center, San Jose
- Webcast/radio: Mountain West Network/KFIG (AM ESPN 940)
- Records: Bulldogs 17-8, 7-5 Mountain West; Spartans 3-20, 0-12
- Of note: The Spartans have dropped 12 games in a row, last winning on Dec. 21 at Santa Clara, but have been in some games on their home floor during conference play. San Jose State lost 59-52 to Colorado State, 82-76 in overtime to UNLV, 78-71 to Air Force, 90-86 in overtime to Wyoming and 71-68 to New Mexico. The Spartans have won the past two games against the Bulldogs at The Event Center. Ryan Welage, a 6-foot-9 forward, leads San Jose State and is third in the MW in scoring at 18.6 ppg. The Spartans do not have another player averaging 10, and are ranked last in the MW and 319th in the nation in scoring at 66.5 points per game.
WOMEN: SAN JOSE STATE AT FRESNO STATE
- Wednesday: 7 p.m. at the Save Mart Center
- Webcast/radio: Mountain West Network/KFPT (AM ESPN2 790)
- Records: Bulldogs 14-10, 9-4 Mountain West; Spartans 6-17 , 3-9
- Of note: Homecoming for two freshmen off Clovis West High’s state-championship team, Megan Anderson and Danae Marquez. Both have played in all 23 San Jose State games. Marquez is averaging 5.3 points and 3.3 assists per game; Anderson is averaging 5 points and 2.1 rebounds. The Spartans have lost six games in a row including 73-66 to Colorado State at home Saturday. Fresno State has been off since winning 66-60 at San Diego State on Wednesday. Candice White at 16.8 ppg is the only Bulldog averaging double-figures. She’s also the team leader in assists and rebounds.