With Fresno State point guard Jaron Hopkins unlikely to play on Monday at Air Force, the Bulldogs are in a quandary and coach Rodney Terry could have different answers on how best to play it if Hopkins is to miss one game, two games or will be out through the Mountain West Conference Tournament.
When Hopkins went down with a right foot injury in the first half of a 78-68 loss to Wyoming, Jahmel Taylor moved to the point and in the second half the Bulldogs did hit 11 of their first 15 shots, finishing the half 14 of 28.
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Taylor also ended up with a Hopkins-like stat line: 16 points, eight rebounds, four assists, and only one turnover in 36 minutes.
He was there, too, when Hopkins was sidelined for four games at the start of December with two transverse process fractures in his back.
The bigger consideration is at the defensive end of the floor, and there is a best fit in there somewhere. Hopkins averaged 16.7 points, 6.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.0 blocks in a five-game winning streak, but also is one of the Bulldogs’ best perimeter defenders and that run that was ended by the Cowboys was built on defense.
Fresno State held five consecutive conference opponents to 65 points or less.
“You miss him defensively because of his size and what he’s able to do from that point of view,” Terry said.
Terry also could use Deshon Taylor at the point.
He could play bigger with the emergence of Nate Grimes, the versatility of Bryson Williams or Sam Bittner and outsized presence of Terrell Carter II.
The Bulldogs do have some experience playing without Hopkins on the floor, obviously a plus. But it is a bit dubious given what is ahead of the Bulldogs (20-9, 10-6 in the MW).
Hopkins injured his back in a Dec. 5 victory over Bakersfield and the Bulldogs went 3-1 while he was out, but the wins came against Cal Poly, Arkansas Pine Bluff and Cal State Monterey Bay, which are No. 302 and No. 309 in the RPI and a Division II team and not close to what they will face in road games at Air Force, at New Mexico to close the regular season and in the Mountain West Tournament.
The Bulldogs ripped them, all three.
They hit 51.0 percent of their shots in a 83-63 victory at Cal Poly, while allowing the Mustangs were just 22 of 60, 36.7 percent.
They hit 54.9 percent of their shots in a 78-52 victory over Arkansas Pine Bluff at the Save Mart Center, while the Golden Lions were going 21 of 53, 39.6 percent.
They hit 58.2 percent of their shots in a 93-56 victory over Cal State Monterey, while the overmatched Otters were 23 of 59, 39.0 percent.
The loss in there was to Oregon, which is one of the Bulldogs’ most inefficient games at the offensive end this season.
Fresno State hit a season-low 36.0 percent of its shots in that game, scoring at only .897 points per possession. In the second half, the Bulldogs were only 6 of 25 (24 percent) missing 15 shots in a row at one point and turned over the ball 10 times.
Air Force itinerary
The game at Air Force is a makeup of the Jan. 20 contest that was postponed due to the shutdown of the federal government, a tough turnaround.
The Bulldogs were to do some film work and walk-through on the Falcons on Sunday, get some shots up and then hit the road. They have a charter to and from – a critical consideration when rescheduling the game – and Terry credited interim athletics director Steve Robertello with making sure they were not at too large a disadvantage.
“I just told them this is what we needed and they did accommodate what we needed if we were going to do that,” Terry said. “(Robertello) stepped in there and did a good job of getting the best situation for us, what was going to put us in the best position. They still get a home game, which is great for them, but we’re not in a situation that is going to put us at a disadvantage.
“I thought he did a very good job of getting in and visiting with the conference and the athletic director at Air Force. They all did a good job of in reaching a happy medium on that.”
Fresno State already spent about $20,000 to make the trip to Colorado Springs, Colo., for the game in January, taking commercial flights.
This trip will cost about $60,000, but Fresno State is getting $15,000 from Air Force.
“If we were going to do the game, we needed the charter,” Robertello said. “Given where we are in our season, we have a chance for some special things this year, I felt it was the right thing to do for our student-athletes. Really, that’s what it came down to.”
The Bulldogs honored Ray Bowles Jr., Jahmel Taylor, Hopkins and Carter, their four seniors, before their final game at the Save Mart Center.
“It is a great group of guys,” Terry said. “These guys have carried themselves the right way on and off the court all season. We have three of the four guys graduated already and one being close to graduation. That is the thing I am most proud of. Guys come through here and they learn to develop a work ethic.
“These guys have done that and it is going to help them for the rest of their lives. They have a degree and that is something that is going to help provide for them, as they become husbands and fathers. Hopefully along the way, they have learned to help each other and build friendships that they will have for the rest of their lives.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE AT AIR FORCE
- Monday: 6 p.m. at Clune Arena, Colorado Springs, Colo.
- TV/radio: AT&TSportsNet/KFIG (AM ESPN 940)
- Records: Bulldogs 20-9, 10-6 Mountain West; Falcons 11-16, 5-10
- Of note: The Falcons snapped a three-game losing streak on Saturday with a 75-65 victory over Utah State. Air Force has struggled defensively in conference play, ranking 10th in the league in allowing opponents to hit 47.5 percent of their shots, but Utah State managed to hit only 22 of 57 (38.6 percent) and 10 of 27 at the 3-point line (37.0 percent). The Falcons were led by forward Lavelle Scottie, who hit 6 of 10 shots in scoring 18 points. Fresno State beat Air Force 71-59 on Dec. 30, 2017 and is playing at Air Force on Monday after its scheduled Jan. 20 game at Clune Arena was postponed due to the shutdown of the federal government. The Bulldogs hit 53.2 percent of their shots in that game and were led by Deshon Taylor (18 points) and Ray Bowles Jr. (16 points).