At a time of year that every college basketball team wants to start looking its best, Fresno State didn’t. Far from it. The Bulldogs got a win, clinching a bye into the quarterfinals next week at the Mountain West Conference Tournament with a 54-48 victory at Air Force. But it was not pretty to look at and if points were deducted for artistic impression – well, they still would have won because the Falcons were worse.
But with senior point guard Jaron Hopkins sidelined for the rest of the season with a right foot injury, the Bulldogs scuffled at the offensive end.
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In a five-game winning streak that ended with a loss to Wyoming when Hopkins went down in the first half, Fresno State had hit 50.8 percent of its shots and put up an average of 79.8 points per game in winning by 18 (Wyoming), 18 (San Diego State), 20 (San Jose State), 21 (Colorado State) and 13 (UNLV).
Against the Falcons, the Bulldogs were 19 of 56, 33.9 percent.
Jahmel Taylor, who started in place of Hopkins at the point, was 1 of 8 in scoring two points, that basket coming with 1:02 remaining.
And that might be absolutely nothing to worry about.
“It will take time, even with our team it will,” coach Rodney Terry said. “We have a couple of days to practice to do what we need to do and we’ll be better for it.
“We just have to continue to work and continue to grind. Everybody has something they have to play through this time of year whether guys are nicked up, bruised up … nobody is completely healthy. If they are, they aren’t very good and they don’t play very hard. You just have to play through it at this time of year. JT is an older guy. Ray (Bowles) is an older guy. Deshon (Taylor) is going to have more ball-handling responsibilities. We’re just going to have to buckle down and still play as hard as we can play and compete as hard as we can compete. I know Jaron would want the guys to do that.”
For Jahmel Taylor, he has been there. And, he has done that.
With a 54-48 victory at Air Force, Fresno State is now 8-3 on the road, its most road wins since winning eight in 2001-02. Six of those wins came in Mountain West play and they have won four conference road games in a row.
Taylor in his first start back in December when Hopkins was down with two transverse process fractures in his back? He was 1 of 7, scored three points. That was at Cal Poly, a game the Bulldogs moved the ball very well and hit 51 percent of their shots in an 83-63 win.
The Bulldogs got a ton of shots against Air Force, but not many went down. Deshon Taylor was 1 of 6 and with an injured left hand could be more of a concern – he is 3 of 18 over the past two games, getting to the foul line only four times in a loss to Wyoming and the victory over Air Force.
“I think we got a lot of great looks, we just couldn’t hit our shots,” Bowles said. “We got some good looks inside, couldn’t finish inside. If we make our shots, it’s a different game.”
That was the main difference between the win at Cal Poly and the win at Air Force. On Monday, playing on short rest and at altitude, the Bulldogs missed a lot of open looks. They scored 30 of their 41 points from the floor in the paint (Fresno State was 13 of 17 at the foul line), but even there they were 8 of 18 on layups and dunks.
With Taylor there was improvement in that December stretch in his second start playing on the ball, more in the third and fourth.
In those last two games, Taylor hit 5 of 11 shots and had six rebounds in both, had three and two assists.
One was against Cal State Monterey Bay, a Division II team. But the other was against Oregon, in a game the Bulldogs were getting little done inside.
“He did a great job tonight, was handling the ball, as well as Deshon, getting us into our offense,” Bowles said. “We’ve been without Jaron before. We miss him dearly. We won games when he was out with an unfortunate injury early in the season, so it’s not like we’re not used to playing with him. We would love to have him, most definitely. But things happen and it’s next man up. Sometimes, you have to move on.”
Winning in the 30s
For the Bulldogs, the win on Monday was their first when hitting less than 34 percent of their shots since a 2014 game against Air Force at the Mountain West Tournament.
That is something of a habit.
In seven seasons under Terry, the Bulldogs have four victories over Air Force with field goal percentages in the 30s, which has to be maddening to the Falcons.
▪ 33.3, 18 of 54 in 61-59 victory in 2014
▪ 33.9, 19 of 56 in 54-48 victory in 2018
▪ 34.5, 20 of 58 in 56-55 victory in 2016
▪ 37.5, 21 of 56 in 56-41 victory in 2013
“It’s never easy against these guys, you know how that goes,” Terry said. “They were coming off a good win against Utah State. We knew they were going to be ready to play. It’s never easy here, never is.”
Fresno State under Terry has hit less than 40 percent of its shots 41 times, going 13-28.
Forward Nate Grimes, one of the top candidates for sixth man of the year in the Mountain West, got only seven minutes against the Falcons, hitting 2 of 3 shots in scoring four points with three rebounds, one at the offensive end.
It was the fewest minutes he has played since getting seven in a Jan. 9 loss to Boise State. In the past 11 games, Grimes had averaged 16.0 minutes and played 20 or more four times while producing 6.5 points and 6.3 rebounds.
“It’s matchups,” Terry said. “It’s ebb and flow of the game and matchups. He has to be ready to play on Saturday (at New Mexico). There’s a matchup for him on Saturday. That’s what it boils down to. It has nothing to do with anything else.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE AT NEW MEXICO
- Saturday: 6 p.m. at Dreamstyle Arena/The Pit, Albuquerque.
- TV/radio: ESPN3/KFIG (AM ESPN 940)
- Records: Bulldogs 21-9, 11-6 Mountain West; Lobos 15-14, 10-6
- Of note: The Lobos moved into a tie for third in the Mountain West with the Bulldogs by edging UNLV on Sunday, 91-90. The Rebels had a wide-open look at a 3-point shot to win that game and whiffed on a tip-in to win. New Mexico hit 50 percent of its shots in that game from the floor and the 3-point line going 28 of 56 and 11 of 22 and is now third in the conference in scoring offense at 81.0 points per game. The Bulldogs won the first meeting 89-80 on Jan. 13 at the Save Mart Center. Deshon Taylor led the Bulldogs with 22 points, going 9 of 12 from the foul line. But the Lobos didn’t have an answer for Bryson Williams inside. The Roosevelt High grad hit 7 of 9 shots in scoring 15 points and had three assists. Fresno State hit 32 of 49 shots in the victory, 65.3 percent.