Fresno State had an easy time of it on Sunday with Pacific Union, an NAIA program that didn’t match up well anywhere one through five, which was evident in an 89-46 final at the Save Mart Center.
The Bulldogs got what they wanted, whenever, though didn’t always take advantage. They outrebounded the Pioneers 49-31 with 21 of those rebounds coming at the offensive end, forced 22 turnovers with 15 steals and scored 50 points in the paint. Karachi Edo had a double-double, his fourth this season, in just 20 minutes on the floor with 12 points and 11 rebounds. Seven players scored in double-figures led by Julien Lewis with 14 points, with Marvelle Harris, Torren Jones, Terrell Carter and Edo scoring 12 and Paul Watson and Jahmel Taylor 11.
But the Bulldogs may be the most difficult team in the Mountain West to gauge heading into conference play, which starts on Wednesday on the road at UNLV.
Watson gave the Bulldogs a “B” for the nonconference schedule, but acknowledged this is a team that can improve significantly over the next two-plus months.
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“We can improve in a lot of areas,” he said. “Rebounding. Guarding our man and staying in front of the ball. Finishing plays out. One thing we struggle with is coming out in the second half and really just continuing the push that we might have had in the first. Really, just keeping that energy and keeping things going, that’s something we definitely need to work on and get through.”
Fresno State is 9-4 and off to its best start since 2006-07 when opening 11-2. At times, the Bulldogs have had the look of a legitimate contender in the Mountain West, much more so than at the start of conference play a year ago when they were 5-8 and without point guard Cezar Guerrero, who was working his way through an eligibility issue.
But the teams that they have beaten include two NAIA programs in The Master’s College and on Sunday the Pioneers and seven Division I programs that are a combined 36-47 including 0-12 Delaware State and 2-9 Pacific. When given an opportunity to make an impression, the Bulldogs didn’t make plays late in the second half of losses at Oregon, at Arizona and against Evansville or at all in a loss at Cal Poly.
“This team still has a lot of room to grow,” coach Rodney Terry said. “We’ve really come back and tried to place an emphasis on defense, understanding that defense travels. Our shots may not travel, but our defense can travel … our effort, our energy, that travels with us.
“I think we’ve done what we need to do in nonconference. We’ve put ourselves in a pretty good position. We know that our league has a lot of parity from top to bottom and there are no nights off and guys have to compete at a very high level. Can we get better? I think we will and I think we’ll continue to work on that every single day.”
The Bulldogs didn’t have it ratcheted up all the way against Pacific Union, which came in 4-3, but 0-6 in exhibitions (it played Fresno State as an exhibition).
But the game devolved quickly after the Bulldogs recovered from a slow start, hitting just one of its first seven shots with two turnovers. And that was without backup point guard Lionel Ellison and forward Cullen Russo – Ellison was suspended for one game following a violation of athletic department policy while Russo was eligible to play but was a DNP-coach’s decision.
Fresno State hit 50 percent of its shots – 35 of 70 and, another thing to work on, 12 of 24 at the free throw line. But once they had worked their way clear midway through the first half with a 23-5 run that was about it and Terry was able to look at some different combinations on the floor and get transfer guard Jahmel Taylor his first minutes – Taylor joined the team at midyear last season from Washington – and an idea how best to deploy him in conference play.
“Coach believes in my three and it’s something that I work on constantly every day,” said Taylor, who hit 4 of 8 shots including 3 of 7 at the three-point line in scoring his 11 points and had five rebounds, two assists and two steals. “It’s really what he needs. If he needs me to play the one some, I can do that. If he needs me to play the two, I do that. I do what he needs, make sure I bring energy.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE AT UNLV
Vitals: 8 p.m. Wednesday in Las Vegas
Records: Bulldogs 9-4, Rebels 9-4
Radio: KFIG (AM 940)