Fresno State got its final points in a 69-66 Mountain West Conference opening victory over UNLV at the free-throw line, an ironic twist because that almost is where the Bulldogs lost it.
The Bulldogs led by as many as nine Wednesday night and UNLV was stuck in a stretch where it made just 1 of 11 shots, between a three-pointer by Jerome Seagears with 16:49 remaining and a three-pointer by Jalen Poyser with 4:08 to go that gave the Rebels a 61-60 lead.
UNLV scored 16 of its 18 points in there from the free-throw line to close in and eventually take a lead while the Bulldogs got deeper and deeper into foul trouble.
We were in dire straits there. I thought our guys did a really good job of staying in front of the basketball and playing without fouling down the stretch.
Fresno State coach Rodney Terry on overcoming late foul trouble in a Mountain West-opening win over UNLV
Fresno State had seven players with four fouls, including all five starters, and was called for 19 in the second half – the Bulldogs had been whistled fewer times in four of their first 13 games.
“We were in dire straits there,” coach Rodney Terry said. “We tried to steal a couple of possessions in zone and we were really close late in the shot clock – they raised up and made two big threes. We had to make a decision and say, ‘Hey, we just have to play this out and if we lose a couple of guys, we’re going to have to try to play it out.’ I thought our guys did a really good job of staying in front of the basketball and playing without fouling down the stretch.”
Poyser hit another three to push the UNLV lead to 64-60 with 2:43 remaining, but the Bulldogs tied it on a drive by Cezar Guerrero and a tip-in by Torren Jones.
Down 66-65 after Cullen Russo hit the first of two free throws with 26 seconds remaining, Jones got a tip on the second foul shot over Stephen Zimmerman, the Rebels’ 7-foot freshman, to put Fresno State back into the lead.
UNLV came out of a timeout and Seagears missed a corner three. Jones grabbed the rebound, was fouled, and made both foul shots for a three-point lead.
Russo then blocked an attempt on a tying three-pointer by Patrick McCaw and the Bulldogs were 10-4 overall and 1-0 in conference play for the first time since 2011.
2 all-time wins for Fresno State at UNLV, both under Terry
On the rebound – The Bulldogs went into the game leading the Mountain West in rebounding margin at plus-6.9, quite a switch for a team that had been a minus-3.2, minus-2.9 and minus-3.6 over the past three seasons with some very poor games in conference play.
They were outrebounded by the Rebels 43-31, but Jones had the two biggest of the game in the final minute, the tip-in over Zimmerman and the rebound of the missed three-pointer by Seagears.
Both were huge plays, but the tip-in put the Bulldogs in the lead. And Jones was able to get that tip without fouling – one of his four fouls came in a similar situation when he made very slight contact going after a missed free throw.
“I feel like I crash every time … sometimes I crash too much,” Jones said with a smile. “But that time it paid off in our favor. I’m glad I crashed, definitely. They are big, but I’ve faced a few big guys like that in my career and know how to maneuver around them a little bit.”
Harris impact – Marvelle Harris did not attend the Bulldogs’ shoot-around Wednesday morning. He was back at the team hotel, resting and trying to fight off the flu.
He was still visibly less than 100 percent when it was over Wednesday. But he helped turn the game in the first half when the Bulldogs were struggling to get much done at the offensive end.
The senior guard didn’t make his first basket until there was just 5:10 remaining, but he scored eight of the Bulldogs’ final 10 points in the first half and then 13 of their first 19 to start the second half.
“I just went to the sidelines and composed myself, took a deep breath and tried not to force things,” said Harris, who finished with a game-high 22 points. “I knew my teammates had my back. I can count on them I just played my game and the shots started falling.”
Et cetera – The Bulldogs had been 0-3 in Mountain West openers, losing at New Mexico last season before rattling off four consecutive wins, lost to UNLV in 2014 when starting 1-7 and lost to San Diego State in 2013 when starting 1-6.
▪ UNLV turned the ball over 21 times, leading to 33 Fresno State points. The Bulldogs had 12 turnovers, with the Rebels scoring just seven points off them. “To me, the biggest part of the game was going to be taking care of the basketball and I think we did a really good job,” Terry said. Fresno State also did a good job with its transition defense, limiting the Rebels to just 5 fast-break points.
▪ The Bulldogs took a long bus ride back home after the game and the best thing about it: “I’m happy. We get to talk on the way back now,” Harris said.
▪ The Bulldogs are 2-17 in Las Vegas, both wins coming under Terry. The Bulldogs’ first win at the Thomas & Mack Center was a 61-52 decision on March 9, 2013.
▪ Fresno State hit 11 of 33 shots in the first half), but was 14 of 24 in the second (58.3 percent). It was their best half shooting the ball to this point – the Bulldogs were 19 of 33 (57.6 percent) in the first half of an 85-72 loss at Arizona.
▪ Jones was at the line with 3:58 remaining and the Bulldogs down 61-60. He missed both shots. But they had been forgotten by the time he got back there with 11 seconds remaining and the Bulldogs up 67-66. “I started the game off pretty good and then I missed those two. I knew those at the end of the game were crucial so I got to the line and took my time, tried to get them in there,” he said. “It’s kind of short-term memory and knowing what the goal is and the goal is to win. I knew my team needed me to make those free throws.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE VS. NEW MEXICO
- Saturday: 6:30 p.m. at Save Mart Center
- Records: Bulldogs 10-4, 1-0 Mountain West; Lobos 8-6, 1-0 (beat Nevada 88-76 on Wednesday)
- TV/radio: CBS Sports Network/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)