Fresno State’s road to Denver
Game-by-game recap for the Bulldogs ahead of facing Utah in the NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional on Thursday in Denver.
Marvelle Harris scored 23 but it took a Torren Jones steal with eight seconds to go to seal the victory and overcome a 39.7 percent shooting night to start coach Rodney Terry’s fifth season.
Jones and Harris were at the forefront again, each scoring 19 (with Harris 12 of 12 on free throws). The Bulldogs again shot poorly from the field (35.7 percent) but went 28 of 41 from the line.
Cezar Guerrero hit six three-pointers and scored 22 overall as the Bulldogs moved to 3-0 for the first time since 2006-07.
Harris’ 26 keyed a blowout of the Owls. Fresno State shot at a 55.3 percent clip compared to 38.9 for Rice.
Guerrero scored 20 and Fresno State held the Hornets to 31.7 percent shooting in running its season-opening winning streak to five. “Cezar’s put the time in,” Terry said, “… you’re going to get what you invest in this game.”
The Bulldogs absorbed their first loss, but how good does it look now? Fresno State fell behind 11-0 and trailed 70-52 with 6:35 to go but at the 1:51 mark was within four of a team that is top seeded in the NCAA Tournament’s West Regional.
Fresno State had few answers for Reid Shackelford as he set a Save Mart Center opponents record with 35 points on 11-for-19 three-point shooting. It was 52-52 with 13:57 to play before the Bulldogs pulled away from an NAIA team that went 4-20.
at Cal Poly
When the Bulldogs weren’t misfiring on their end (34.8 percent shooting) they were sending Cal Poly to the line (25 of 35), never really climbing back after falling behind by 15 in the second half.
The Bulldogs, as they did vs. Oregon, played up to the competition in leading the Pacific-12 Conference power Wildcats 46-43 at halftime and being within one with 2:57 remaining. Harris scored 23 on 10-of-21 shooting.
Back at Save Mart Center, the Bulldogs snapped their only losing streak of 2015-16. They led 34-22 at the half and finished 27 of 56 (48.2 percent) from the field.
Maybe this where the NCAA Tournament-bound Roadrunners began to believe, hanging with Fresno State until the end. The Bulldogs took the lead for good on a dunk by Harris (20 points, six rebounds, five assists, zero turnovers) with 4:59 to go.
The Purple Aces finished a program record-tying 25-9 but fell victim to a numbers game when NIT berths were awarded. This road win, however, was a highlight as Evansville went on a 10-0 run after halftime and hit 15 of 27 shots (55.6 percent) over the final 20 minutes.
A final preconference test didn’t require the Bulldogs to break a sweat as they limited the NAIA team to 33 percent shooting and forced 22 turnovers. Karachi Edo had 12 points, 11 rebounds and three assists.
Harris battled through the flu to score 22, and Jones had two big tip-ins, the second giving the Bulldogs a lead with 25 seconds to go. Jones hit two free throws to push the lead to three and Cullen Russo blocked the Rebels’ final shot as Fresno State opened the conference season with a road win.
The home conference opener turned into a dud as 36.1 percent shooting from the field and 9 of 19 from the line offset 24 Lobos turnovers. “The disappointing thing about tonight’s loss,” Terry said, “is that we have a community that really wants to get behind us and they’re really starving for a team that is consistent every night with what they bring to the table.”
Guerrero scored eight in an opening 12-0 run as the Bulldogs bounced back with a blowout win. Fresno State shot 52.9 percent from the field, and Harris became the fourth Bulldog to score 1,600 points.
at Boise State
Down 21 with 14:21 to go, the Bulldogs got within 67-64 in the final five minutes before Boise State pulled away again. Missing 10 of 22 free throws didn’t help, especially with the Broncos 25 for 39.
San Jose State
Harris’ 32 points and a defense that limited the Spartans to 30 percent first-half shooting lifted the Bulldogs, who blew all but one of what was a 19-point lead with 12:45 remaining. Paul Watson and Guerrero hit threes to twice push the lead back to four. “Good teams continue to grow,” Terry said. “I think we will be playing our best basketball when it matters most.”
at San Diego State
L, 73-67 (OT)
Guerrero’s buzzer-beating three-pointer forced OT, but the Aztecs put it away with 13-of-16 shooting at the line in the extra session. The Bulldogs hit 38.9 percent from the field but held San Diego State to 40.4.
at Air Force
Though the Falcons would finish 5-13 in the conference, they twice played the Bulldogs to one-point games. This was the first, with Jones’ putback deciding it with five seconds to play.
Harris scored 25 to move into third on the school’s career list. His back-to-back layups erased a one-point deficit with eight minutes left and Watson and Russo hit dagger threes to push the lead to 10.
at San Jose State
Harris was 2 of 16 and Fresno State shot 34.4 percent overall in a road setback to a team that would finish last in the Mountain West. The Bulldogs fell to a mediocre 5-4 in conference. “They outhustled us and outscrapped us tonight,” Terry said. “That’s the bottom line.”
W, 111-104 (2OT)
Another thriller versus the Rebels wasn’t decided till Harris’ three gave the Bulldogs a five-point lead with 2:13 to go in the second OT. Harris finished with 37 and moved to No. 2 all-time at Fresno State.
San Diego State
Terry called it “our biggest win here at home” in his five years as coach and who could argue? The Bulldogs, down 11 with 16:19 to go, survived Trey Kell’s attempt at the winner with two seconds to play in dealing the Aztecs their first conference loss.
L, 77-72 (OT)
Nevada held a 57-32 rebounding edge and outscored Fresno State 28-18 in the paint, though the Bulldogs showed some fight in getting to OT on Harris’ three-pointer with 66 seconds to play. After looking a game earlier like the big threat to stop San Diego State’s run to the conference title, the Bulldogs dropped back into a tie for fourth.
Fresno State needed just about every one of Harris’ career-high seven three-pointers and the team’s 15 overall (three off a school record) in holding off a Wyoming team that fell to 12-15 overall and 5-9 in the Mountain West. But few college road wins come easily and though no one knew it at the time, this was the first of nine consecutive victories that would secure the Bulldogs’ NCAA Tournament berth.
The Bulldogs led for all but 2:32 of the game while gaining a share of second in the league at 9-5. Utah State gave it away nine times but the Bulldogs just two, keying their 18-0 edge in points off turnovers.
Harris continued to solidify his case for conference Player of the Year honors, scoring the Bulldogs’ final 12 points as they overcame a nine-point deficit in the final four minutes. “To me,” Terry said, “Marvelle is the best player in this league, but I’m a little biased because I’m his coach.”
at New Mexico
Another brilliant night for Harris, who scored 32 points and handed out a career-high 10 assists without a turnover. Julien Lewis was close to perfect, going 8 of 11 including 5 of 6 on three-pointers.
Lewis again had the hot hand, this time delivering a career-high 30 points on 11-of-16 shooting including 6 of 7 threes. Terry on seniors Lewis, Harris and Guerrero: “They’ve really been the building blocks of this program, and they’ve given us the foundation to move this program in the right direction.”
at Utah State
The regular-season finale was a coronation for Harris, who scored 34 points to pass Melvin Ely for No. 1 on Fresno State’s career scoring list. Still, it took the biggest comeback in Terry’s five seasons to pull out the win after falling behind 39-21 with 3:26 left in the first half.
Fresno State had finished the regular season at 22-9 overall and 13-5 in the conference, earning the No. 2 seed, a bye, and eventual second-round matchup with No. 7 UNLV in the Mountain West tournament after the Rebels went to triple OT in beating 10th-seeded Air Force 108-102. It was close for a while though the Bulldogs never trailed, as Lewis’ 27 points helped send them into the semifinals.
The Bulldogs, with losing not an option in the single-elimination format, extended their winning streak to eight – the program’s longest run since 1994. Fresno State shot just 37 percent but made up for it with defense, holding Colorado State to 13-of-57 shooting (22.8 percent)
San Diego State
Fresno State dealt the Aztecs one of only two conference defeats they suffered in the regular season, and maybe knowing that eased the pressure of the Bulldogs playing in their first tournament championship since 2000. It would not be easy, but Lewis proved an unlikely hero. After missing his first nine shots, the senior’s three-pointer gave Fresno State a 64-62 lead with 1:36 to go. San Diego State missed a potential tying free throw and Lewis hit four in a row to secure the Bulldogs’ first NCAA Tournament berth since 2001. Harris added tournament MVP honors to the regular-season conference Player of the Year award he was awarded four days earlier.