Fresno State forward Torren Jones returned to the starting lineup in an 81-74 victory over San Jose State, responding with 11 points and 13 rebounds for his fifth double double of the season and first since a Nov. 30 loss at Oregon.
In between, the transfer from Midland College by way of Missouri had a few moments, both good and bad. But he intends to stay put after what he called “a little step back.” The timing is good for the Bulldogs (12-6, 3-2 Mountain West), who play at San Diego State (12-6, 5-0) on Tuesday.
“I kind of got a little complacent, kind of thought I’ve got my spot secured,” said Jones, who is leading the Bulldogs with 8.2 rebounds per game. “Obviously, Coach (Rodney) Terry had other ideas for that. We worked through that and I’m back where I’m supposed to be, so I’m good.”
Fresno State will need Jones to be just that against the Aztecs, the only undefeated team in Mountain West play. They lead the conference in scoring defense, field-goal percentage defense and rebounding margin, where they are ranked just ahead of the Bulldogs at plus-5.4 to plus-5.3.
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San Diego State has won the outright championship or shared the regular-season Mountain West title four of the past five seasons (2011, 2012, 2014 and 2015).
Fresno State also will be without backup center Terrell Carter, who started in place of Jones in a victory over Nevada and a loss at Boise State, playing 17 and five minutes in those games. Carter did not make the trip and will not play pending the outcome of an administrative issue. That will mean a slight uptick in minutes along the front line but no real change in role for Jones, who reconnected with his in that victory over the Spartans.
The 13 rebounds in that game were his most since grabbing 14 in a season-opening victory over Pepperdine, and a season-high seven came at the offensive end. He scored off one rebound and played better through contact around the rim in getting to the free-throw line 10 times.
“I’m trying to get back to that,” Jones said. “I’m focusing on rebounding and letting the scoring come second. Once I get the rebounds taken care of, offensive and defensive, then I feel like the scoring comes with it. The free throws were a big part of it. I’ve been putting the work in for them, though.
“It’s been something I’ve been working on and it has been paying off, just being hungry around the rim and knowing if we’re in the bonus or if I’m putting it back off an offensive rebound, and I’ve been in the weight room a little more just to make sure I keep things right.”
Terry said he knew there was going to be a transition for Jones, but that not starting two games and the work he put in during that stretch has him set to move forward.
The Bulldogs, 12-6 overall, are six games above .500 at this time of the season for the first time since 2006-07, when they were 13-5 after 18 games.
“I think that set the tone for him in practice. It has made him better,” Terry said. “I think he has gotten it – that’s something that we’re going to hold him accountable to. We really try to instill in these guys that they have to be everyday guys. That’s what you have to bring to the table.
“He was at this level as a freshman; didn’t play very much at this level when he was a freshman until the latter part of the year. But the preparation piece and the growth curve and just learning how important that is and what goes into it, he has gotten better with it. He is more engaged and understands how important it is. That’s a big piece for him moving forward.”
Et cetera – With Jones’ seven offensive rebounds against San Jose State, the Bulldogs had 12 in the game and have been in double digits in four of their first five conference games. Fresno State is leading the conference in offensive rebounds, averaging 13.8 per game. Last season, the Bulldogs had 10 or more offensive rebounds in only three of their 18 conference games.
▪ Senior guard Marvelle Harris enters Tuesday’s game with 1,658 career points, just 32 short of tying Terrance Roberson (1996-2000) for third place on the school’s all-time scoring list. Harris scored 25 points in a 59-57 victory over the Aztecs last season at Save Mart Center, but in six games against San Diego State, he has shot 37.1 percent (26 of 70) and is averaging 13.7 points.
▪ San Diego State not only is ranked sixth in Division I in scoring defense (60.1 ppg) and fourth in field-goal percentage defense (36.3 percent), it is fifth in two-point field-goal percentage defense. The Aztecs have allowed Division I opponents to shoot only 39.6 percent inside the three-point line. The only teams ranked ahead of San Diego State are Cal (38.4 percent), Louisville (38.6), Purdue (39.0) and Memphis (39.2).
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
MEN’S BASKETBALL: FRESNO STATE AT SAN DIEGO STATE
- Tuesday: 8 p.m. at Viejas Arena in San Diego
- Records: Bulldogs 12-6, 3-2 Mountain West; Aztecs 12-6, 5-0
- TV: ESPNU
- Radio: KFIG (AM 940)
- Series: San Diego State leads 59-49
- Last Meeting: San Diego State 58, Fresno State 47 on Jan. 27, 2015
- Next up for Bulldogs: at Air Force on Jan. 23; vs. Wyoming on Jan. 26; at San Jose State on Feb. 3; vs. UNLV on Feb. 6