Fresno State has an older men’s basketball team, with two seniors in the starting lineup and a third coming off the bench and two juniors starting who have played a lot. Freshmen this season have played a total of only 14 minutes.
So it is a tad surprising that a refresher was required when it comes to effort for 40 minutes and closing games and all that, but that is what the Bulldogs got the first time they matched up with San Jose State. Fresno State pulled out an 81-74 victory at Save Mart Center just three weeks ago that was as instructive as any that the Bulldogs have put to the left in the win-loss column.
The Bulldogs hit the half up 16, pushed the lead to 19 with 12:45 to go and then … stopped.
Fresno State is seeking its sixth straight win in series with San Jose State.
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San Jose State, just 13 of 39 shooting the basketball to that point, knocked down 55.6 percent of its shots the rest of the way, shrinking the Bulldogs’ lead to 10 points in just 2:26, then seven points, four points, six points, four points and then just one point.
“It was an eye-opener,” Fresno State forward Paul Watson said. “It definitely showed us that you need to continue to play the whole 40 minutes because the Mountain West is a conference where teams aren’t going to quit. You’re in for a game every night and you have to be aware of that.”
Since then, it hasn’t been a problem. Adjustments implemented at the break have taken hold. The pace and effort has been consistent. In the three games since that victory over San Jose State (7-15, 2-8 Mountain West), Fresno State (14-7, 5-3) has allowed opponents to hit just 29.6 percent (21 of 71) of their shots in the second half, including 20.6 percent at the three-point line (7 of 34), and are a plus-4.7 in rebounding margin.
The Bulldogs outscored San Diego State 31-23 before losing in overtime at Viejas Arena, held Air Force to just 25 points to buoy a zone-challenged offense in a 56-55 victory and outscored Wyoming 38-23 in a 71-60 win. Fresno State’s points allowed per possession fell to .742 in the second half from 1.030 in the first half against the Aztecs, to .758 from .882 against the Falcons and to .676 from 1.194 against Wyoming – which featured some of the Bulldogs’ best defensive efforts this season.
The Cowboys hit just 5 of 24 shots (20.8 percent) in the second half and scored no points in the paint, had just one offense rebound, but no second-chance points.
San Jose State is 5-5 at home and is led by Frank Rogers (12.5 ppg/6.6 rpg) and Ryan Welage (11.7 ppg/5.9 rpg).
Against San Jose State, the challenge is different but the consistency will have to be similar. The Spartans are coming off a 21-point victory over Air Force, their largest margin of victory in a conference game since a 72-45 victory over the Bulldogs on Feb. 27, 2010.
“They’re going to shoot a lot of threes,” coach Rodney Terry said. “We’re going to have to do a good job of having good shooter defense and we have to locate those guys early in transition because they do a really good job in transition scoring the basketball. It’s going to be big for us.
“But I think they’re understanding the urgency that you have to play with and you have to play with it on every possession. We know being at home isn’t enough and when you’re on the road you have to go the extra mile. I think we’ve gotten better with it.”
Russo starting – Forward Cullen Russo, who got his first career start in the Bulldogs’ victory over Wyoming and produced a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds, will get a second against the Spartans.
“We know that their big guys can shoot the basketball – they’re a really good shooting team and they shoot it really well at home,” Terry said. “I like what Cullen is bringing to the table. I think he’s doing a really good job.”
In the first meeting against San Jose State, Torren Jones started and had a double-double with 11 points and 13 rebounds with seven coming at the offensive end in 26 minutes. Russo scored five points and grabbed eight rebounds in 27 minutes.
Et cetera – With a victory at San Jose State, the Bulldogs would be 6-3 in the Mountain West, matching their best start in conference play since the 2004-05 season when 6-3 in the Western Athletic Conference. Fresno State finished that season 9-9 and in fourth place.
▪ Marvelle Harris is 30 points shy of tying Wil Hooker (1,739 points, 1989-92) in second place on the Bulldogs’ career points list. The senior guard scored 32 points in the first game against the Spartans when hitting 9 of 14 shots and 12 of a career-high 15 free throws, but The Event Center has not been a favored venue. Harris has hit only 9 of 23 shots, including 2 of 10 at the three-point line, in two games at San Jose State, averaging 13 points per game.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
MEN’S BASKETBALL: FRESNO STATE AT SAN JOSE STATE
- Wednesday: 7 p.m. at The Event Center in San Jose
- Records: Bulldogs 14-7, 5-3 MW; Spartans 7-15, 2-8
- Radio: KFIG (AM 940)
- Series: Fresno State leads 84-75
- Last meeting: Fresno State 81, San Jose State 74 at Save Mart Center on Jan. 16
- Next up for Bulldogs: vs. UNLV on Feb. 6; vs. San Diego State on Feb. 10