Fresno State coach Justin Hutson has some pieces to put into play, no question, and he put just about all of them on the floor in the Bulldogs’ men’s basketball season-opener at Oregon.
A little of that was had-to, a little bit was want-to.
But how they best fit together still is to be determined, though there were a few hints in a 71-57 loss to the No. 15 Ducks on Tuesday night at the Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene, Ore.
Fresno State played 11 deep as seven players made their Bulldogs debuts. In addition, senior Noah Blackwell sat out the first of two games to start the season due to a violation of institutional policy.
“When you have eight new guys and you’re missing your senior point guard, then you’re going to look and see who’s playing the way we want them to play,” Hutson said. “We didn’t plan on playing 11 guys, but we had some foul trouble in the first half and you’re going to really look and see ... who wants to play the way we want to play? Who is playing hard, sharing the ball, hustling, playing as a group?”
Senior guard New Williams logged a team-high 34 minutes. Freshman guard Jarred Hyder was on the floor for 29 minutes, freshman forward Orlando Robinson for 25.
Grimes leads scorers with 13
Senior Nate Grimes got only 21 minutes, but he pulled the Bulldogs back into the game midway through the second half after trailing by as many as 21 points.
The senior forward reversed some poor shooting at the 3-point line by the Bulldogs, knocking down three in a three-minute stretch midway through the second half. He scored a team-high 13 points.
It is the most dramatic improvement to Grimes’ highly-productive game – last season he was just 4 of 17 at the 3-point line.
“He can shoot it,” Hutson said. “He was playing against a bigger guy tonight and a matchup zone, so it was hard to free him up. But he can shoot the ball. I was proud of the way he made them. He knows we want him to shoot it when he’s open.”
The Bulldogs a year ago were a Top 25 team at the 3-point line. Led then by Deshon Taylor and Braxton Huggins, Fresno State finished ninth in the nation in 3-pointers made per game (10.7), 16th in 3-point field goals (342) and 24th in 3-point field goal percentage (38.1%).
But Taylor and Huggins are gone.
And Fresno State’s outside shots were not dropping at Oregon.
Fresno State commited some self-inflicted wounds against the Ducks’ matchup zone with some poor shots, quick shots and a lot of missed shots.
Fresno State was 3 of 17 (17.6%) in the first half at the 3-point line, 6 of 19 (31.6%) in the second and 9 of 36 (25%) in the game.
“There were some good ones,” Hutson said. “Not all the shots we took we liked, but we had some good looks with guys we’re confident can make them.
“We just have to keep plugging. I like the way our guys continued to fight, but you lose a little energy if you can’t make shots.”
The Bulldogs were better inside the 3-point line, but not where they needed to be to keep pace with the Ducks. And the Bulldogs went through stretches when they missed five shots in a row, seven shots in a row and five shots in a row again.
Another telling statistic: Fresno State, with the most height and length it has had in years, was out-rebounded 45-31. Oregon had 16 offensive rebounds, which it turned into 14 second-chance points.
The Bulldogs also had 17 turnovers, and those two things will be points of emphasis as they prepare for a home opener against Winthrop on Sunday afternoon at the Save Mart Center when Fresno State retires the No. 24 jersey of former star Paul George in a halftime ceremony.
Fresno State struggled with both rebounding and limiting turnovers last week in an exhibition against Dominican.
“We gave up too many offensive rebounds and we had too many turnovers, the same thing we’ve been working on since our scrimmage, the same thing we’ve been working on since our exhibition,” Hutson said.