One game down for the Fresno State men’s basketball team and the Bulldogs have a vastly different look to them after a 69-66 victory over Pepperdine, a team that smoked them by 15 in their opener a year ago.
A large reason for that is forward Torren Jones, who started his college career at Missouri and came to Fresno State by way of Midland College. Jones scored 13 points Friday night at Save Mart Center with 14 rebounds, including five at the offensive end, two assists, two steals and two blocks – and, really, coach Rodney Terry has not had anything like him in his first four seasons. At 6-foot-9, Jones gets up and down the floor and can make an impact in a number of ways at the offensive or defensive end.
He made it sound pretty simple.
“It felt like home, something I was used to coming from JUCO. I felt like that’s what I needed to bring to the Bulldogs,” Jones said. “That’s what coach recruited me for – rebounds and being a presence in the post. I feel like I did my job.”
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But for Fresno State, getting that piece hasn’t been easy and, as with this team, which hosts Lamar on Monday, Terry feels Jones has a high ceiling.
“He can be a guy that also gives us an inside presence offensively as well,” Terry said. “As the year goes along, I think he’ll be a guy that gives that to us.
“From 15 feet in, he gives us a presence. He’s a guy that can make an open three, can make a 15-foot shot. But his game for us and his value for us is 15 feet in. We have a lot of guys that can shoot the basketball right now. We need an inside presence, someone who really wants to take on the chore of saying, ‘Hey, I can give us that inside presence.’ ”
Against the Waves, Jones scored four points off offensive rebounds, two on a layup in transition and three from the free-throw line.
“I think he’s going to grow all season long,” Terry said. “From his freshman year to his sophomore year in junior college, he became more of an offensive guy inside. When he plays to his strengths and shoots the shots that he works on, he’s very efficient inside. I think he’ll only get better.”
What happened – The Bulldogs were not looking very good with eight minutes remaining Friday. They were down only four but had hit 20 of 54 shots (37 percent) and were awful at the line at 7 of 16 (43.8 percent). The offense was Marvelle Harris, and that was about it. The senior guard had 18 points at that point and finished with a game-high 23.
But from there, Fresno State hit five of its last nine shots (55.6 percent) and 10 of its last 14 free throws (71.4 percent) while scuttling the Waves at the other end.
Pepperdine got only four shots in the final 7:56 and turned over the ball seven times. They also made only 8 of 15 free throws after hitting 14 of their first 19.
Digging in on defense – Fresno State capped its eight-minute shutdown of the Waves with big steals by backup point guard Lionel Ellison and Paul Watson.
Pepperdine point guard Jeremy Major hit a long three-pointer with 11 seconds remaining to bring the Waves to within 67-66, and they quickly fouled Julien Lewis, who hit only the second of two free throws. But with the Bulldogs pressing, Ellison got into Major and diverted his attention off the basketball for a split second to come up with a steal.
Ellison was fouled and made the first of two free throws, putting the Bulldogs up 69-66 with eight seconds remaining. Pepperdine forward Stacy Davis secured the rebound and made his way up the floor, but Watson reached in and took away the basketball. The Waves got no final shot.
“It was a really good defensive lineup out there for us, and I thought our guys dug down and got stops when we had to have stops and made them take difficult shots,” Terry said. “We have some length. I thought our guys dug down, they were engaged and they finished possessions. You have to finish possessions with rebounds.”
Fresno State forced 18 turnovers, had 15 steals and blocked eight shots.
“I said to this group this summer, ‘I think we can be the best defensive team in our league’ – and if you’re the best defensive team in our league, then you’re probably one of the better teams in the country,” Terry said. “We have all the ingredients to do that, and that’s going to make the growth curve for this team have a very high ceiling if we continue to build on that.”
Tickets – More than 1,200 tickets were sold through a special offer – four tickets for $13 – and the announced attendance was 7,827.
“We had a great crowd,” Terry said. “The community came out. They’re excited about this team. They want to see this team. We really appreciate what they did for us tonight.
“We hope they can come back again on Monday for us because they were the big difference in this game. Our guys fed off that energy.”
The Bulldogs are running another special for the Lamar game. Anyone who shows they follow Fresno State athletics on any of its social media accounts – Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Vine or Snapchat – will get into the game for free.
The free tickets will be available Monday at the SMC box office.
Half right – The Bulldogs trailed 38-30 at halftime and after taking a lead with 9:12 to go on a layup by Harris fell back by eight again with 4:26 to go.
Last season, Fresno State was 1-17 when trailing at the half.
“It was just not getting down on ourselves,” Jones said. “Like coach said, we have a good group of guys that don’t give up on each other, and I felt like bringing Lionel in, he was the glue to that run we had coming back in the second half.”
Making a point – Ellison entered the game for the final time with 6:35 remaining, the Bulldogs down by six and about to go down eight on a jump shot by Davis, and proved the depth behind senior Cezar Guerrero is much better than it was last season.
He had two steals, two assists and made three free throws in that stretch, the Bulldogs climbing back and into the lead.
“Lionel is a winner. He came from a winning program,” Terry said. “At game time, he’s a guy that can climb in guys and get stops when he needs to and make the right decisions (with the ball).”
Et cetera – Harris, the Mountain West Conference Preseason Player of the Year, on the victory: “Everybody did their job tonight. People who were to screen screened. People who were to take shots took the shot. People made the right passes. Everybody just played together. We played as a unit tonight.”
▪ Fresno State had nine players play and all nine scored. “I tell you what, it’s a strength of our team, having a number of different guys that can come in,” Terry said. “The thing that we’ve really tried to instill in these guys is play as hard as you can play. Don’t pace yourself out on the floor. We have enough guys that can come in. You’ve done your job – you’ve gone as hard as you can go. The next guy comes in and he’s going to keep up that same pace as well.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE VS. LAMAR
- Monday: 7 p.m. at Save Mart Center
- Records: Bulldogs 1-0, Cardinals 0-1