The final score is a solid clue. Fresno State drilled San Jose State on its home floor 77-57, which shouldn’t be discounted even if the Spartans are now 3-21 and 0-13 in Mountain West Conference men’s basketball play because they have been close many times.
They lost at home to Colorado State by seven, to UNLV by six in overtime. They lost to Air Force by seven, to Wyoming by four in overtime, to New Mexico by three.
The only game they weren’t really in was a 17-point loss to conference-leading Nevada.
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The Bulldogs’ 20-point victory was the worst the Spartans had absorbed on their home floor, in or out of conference play.
But how Fresno State got there was fairly well hidden in the box score, beyond the final score.
San Jose State hit 42.3 percent of its shots, not a terrible number. It turned it over only 13 times, much better than its nation-worst average of 17.4 per game.
The Spartans also had a 10-point lead. But at that point, with 6:13 remaining in the first half, the Bulldogs turned up the pressure at the defensive end and turned the game.
From there and to the 10-minute mark in the second half, San Jose State hit just 4 of 22 shots (18.2 percent) and had five turnovers.
The Bulldogs turned that 10-point deficit into a 21-point lead.
“We had to get some stops,” point guard Jaron Hopkins said. “We had let shooters shoot some wide-open shots, even guys that don’t make a lot of 3s made 3s.”
Ryan Welage, who came in averaging 18.3 points per game and was ranked third in the Mountain West in scoring, got San Jose State started with a 3-pointer in a stretch where the Spartans knocked down 9 of 11 shots. They also got a 3 from guard Isaiah Nichols, who had not made a 3-pointer since a Jan. 24 loss at Boise State and had only that one since a Dec. 27 loss at Utah State. He was 12 of 39 at the 3-point line this season, 30.8 percent.
The Spartans got a 3 from guard Jalen James, who had not hit a 3-pointer since a Jan. 27 loss to Wyoming, was 1 of his last 11 and had hit only 9 of 37 this season, 24.3 percent.
They also got a 3 from guard Nai Carlisle, who had not hit a 3-pointer since a Jan. 3 loss to UNLV, had attempted only three over the Spartans’ past six games and was 4 of 11 at the 3-point line on the season, 36.4 percent.
The Bulldogs (18-8, 8-5 in the MW), who hadn’t played in a week, took all of that and everything else away in maintaining a hold on third place in the Mountain West, tied with UNLV.
“The second half we came out and I thought we played smothering defense. I think we took them out of everything that they wanted to do,” coach Rodney Terry said.
“We got good ball pressure up the floor, then we got back up the floor and we made their initial catches really hard, as well. We just took them out of what they wanted to do and then they had to go one-on-one or they had to make a contested shot. We did a good job of getting them one-and-out and then we did a good job pushing it in transition.”
Hopkins said the Bulldogs’ defense through San Jose State’s burst impacted the Fresno State offense. But once the Bulldogs got right, they took off. While San Jose State was going 4 of 22 the Bulldogs ended the first half hitting five of their last eight shots and started the second hitting 10 of 16, a combined 15 of 24, 62.5 percent.
They went from scoring at .914 points per possession in the first 20 minutes to 1.452 in the second, which is about as efficient as they have been in a half all season.
“We put it on our defense, really,” Hopkins said. “Coming off a break, we came out a little stagnant. We knew we were better than that.
“We came in the locker room (at halftime), got together, and came out and took them out of their stuff and popped the game open.”
The Bulldogs’ point guard scored a game-high 20 points, hitting 8 of 12 shots. In the past three games, he has hit 23 of 36 shots (63.9 percent) in averaging 18.7 points with 4.7 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 2.0 steals and 1.3 blocked shots.
“I’m just being aggressive, picking and choosing when I can score and when I can’t,” he said. “I was really trying to pass the ball today and get my teammates the ball. That’s what I did early on, and then I got some open shots.”
He also has just six turnovers in 96 minutes.
“He’s taking care of the basketball, he’s running our team and he’s playing with really good confidence and poise,” Terry said. “He’s making the simple plays, he’s finishing and he’s playing with a lot of good energy on defense for us.”
The Bulldogs’ 1.167 points per possession in the victory at San Jose State marked an eighth game in a row they have been at 1.000 or better and 23rd time in 26 games this season.
A year ago, the Bulldogs hit at 1.000 points per possession 18 times in 33 games.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
COLORADO STATE AT FRESNO STATE
- Saturday: 4 p.m. at Save Mart Center
- Webcast/radio: Mountain West Network/KFIG (AM ESPN 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Records: Bulldogs 18-8, 8-5 Mountain West; Rams 11-16, 4-10
- Of note: The Rams snapped a seven-game losing streak Saturday with a 90-79 victory over San Jose State and will have had had a week to settle in with their third coach this season with Larry Eustachy and interim coach Steve Barnes on paid administrative leave while the university wraps up a climate assessment of the program. Assistant Jase Herl coached the Rams against San Jose State. Colorado State ranks last in the Mountain West in field goal percentage (41.8) and ninth in scoring (72.6). It hit 40.3 percent of its shots when Fresno State took an 82-79 victory in overtime at Fort Collins on Jan. 6.