Fresno State

Fresno State men’s basketball: Win over Colorado State puts ’Dogs on verge of NCAA trip

Colorado State’s Antwan Scott (1) releases the ball as Fresno State’s Cullen Russo (13) and Marvelle Harris defend during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the semifinals at the Mountain West Conference men’s tournament Friday, March 11, 2016, in Las Vegas. Harris scored 19 points in the Bulldogs’ victory.
Colorado State’s Antwan Scott (1) releases the ball as Fresno State’s Cullen Russo (13) and Marvelle Harris defend during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the semifinals at the Mountain West Conference men’s tournament Friday, March 11, 2016, in Las Vegas. Harris scored 19 points in the Bulldogs’ victory. AP

The Fresno State Bulldogs were in their best stretch of basketball in a decade, winners of seven games in row and nine of 10 and of course that didn’t mean much the second they took the court on Friday in a semifinal match up against Colorado State at the Mountain West Conference Tournament, the No. 2 seed against No. 6.

New game, new opponent and all, and they played poorly at the start. The Bulldogs pressed, were without much pop, tossing in about 10 minutes of their worst into a stretch they had been at their best. Coach Rodney Terry started to pull his starters early, the first two at the 15:07 mark, not even five minutes in. Cullen Russo and Julien Lewis were first, followed by Marvelle Harris, followed by Karachi Edo and Cezar Guerrero, and all five were off the floor at one point.

He had to get them settled down and settled in and though the Bulldogs never did really get there at the offensive end they had just enough there and more than enough at the defensive end to pull out a 64-56 victory that put them into the championship game of the tournament against top-seed San Diego State.

“We had to hit the reset button and just say, ‘Guys, let’s settle in. Let’s run our stuff, let’s execute and do it at a high level and then we have to sit down and guard,’ ” Terry said.

“I don’t think we were too hyped up or we were too nervous to start the ball game. I just thought that sometimes when you play a team that can really shoot the basketball – they’re making shots – now we want to come down and match what they’re doing as opposed to playing our game. Let’s do what we do and what we’ve done to get to this point, and finally I thought we settled on in.”

The Bulldogs did at the defensive end first, and mostly.

Colorado State had come in as the top scoring team in the conference, averaging 79.9 points per game, and with 9:45 remaining in the first half had an 11-point lead.

But the Rams didn’t make a shot the rest of the half, their only points coming at the foul line, five trips, 10 free throws in all. Guard Antwan Scott, who had scored 10 of their first 14 points and came in averaging 16.6 per game, hit a jumper with 12:37 to go to get there and didn’t score again. Colorado State then started the second half hitting only one of their first 11 shots, making it 1 of 24 for a very long stretch.

Fresno State (24-9) didn’t exactly rip it at the offensive end, hitting only 20 of 54 shots (37 percent). But Colorado State was 13 of 57 (22.8 percent) in the game and 5 of 42 from the time they pushed their lead to 11 points.

“Coach (Jerry) Wainwright is always on us about defense,” said Edo, who scored 14 points, had eight big rebounds, blocked three shots and had a steal.

“If someone beats you, the next guy should help. That’s how it is. We get too caught up as players that, you have to guard this player one on one and don’t let your player go. But now we have the mindset where if I help you, you help me. It’s like a yo-yo, a string. If you move it, it’s supposed to move in every direction. We always have to help each other and that’s what was happening.”

With Scott shuttered, the Rams struggled to find offense. Joe DeCiman knocked down three three-pointers but fouled out with 6:58 to go. Point guard John Gillon, averaging 13.2 points, had a rough go against Cezar Guerrero, Lionel Ellison and Jahmel Taylor. Gillon hit just 1 of 12 shots, with 10 of his 13 points coming from the foul line.

“A lot of players, when they see the initial hand in their face, it lets them know they’re not open anymore,” Harris said.

“It’s getting in there, taking away the initial shot and then sitting down and guarding. I think it took away a lot of shots that a lot of teams usually give them.”

The Bulldogs didn’t give much after that first 10 minutes, which was key in stabilizing in the first half and then getting away at the start of the second when Lewis hit back to back jumpers and then, after a scoring drive by Harris, a three-pointer. It also was crucial to maintaining an advantage that the Rams had cut to 56-53 with 3:18 to go.

“I think they’re the best shooting team in our league. You never feel comfortable with them,” Terry said. “A 10-point lead is nothing against that team. You have to continue to try to get stops, continue to always have good shooter defense because they come across half court, you have to start playing.”

Fresno State closed out the Rams with defense – a steal by Guerrero with 2:21 to go, a big block by Cullen Russo on J.D. Paige going to the basket, a miss by Scott on a contested shot from the three-point line.

Now, the Bulldogs get the Aztecs with a trip to what would be Fresno State’s first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2001 on the line.

San Diego State is the top seed, but the Bulldogs took them to overtime before losing 73-67 at Viejas Arena and beat them 58-57 at Save Mart Center.

“It’s special to put the program on the map like this,” Lewis said. “We’ve got a big challenge, but we’ll be ready for that challenge. We’ll come prepared.”

FRESNO STATE 64, COLORADO STATE 56

Colorado State

FG

FT

Reb

Min

M-A

M-A

O-T

A

PF

PTS

De Ciman

25

3-8

2-6

1-9

0

5

11

Daniels

22

0-0

1-2

2-7

0

3

1

Scott

33

4-12

0-0

0-4

1

4

10

Gillon

38

1-12

10-10

1-3

3

3

13

Richardson III

32

2-8

6-6

5-8

0

4

11

Jackson

13

0-2

0-0

1-3

0

1

0

Nixon

14

1-4

1-1

1-1

1

1

3

Paige

22

2-10

3-5

2-4

2

3

7

Van Ry

1

0-1

0-0

0-0

0

0

0

Totals

200

13-57

23-30

17-44

7

24

56

Percentages: FG .228, FT .767.

3-Point Goals: 7-31, .226 (De Ciman 3-7, Scott 2-6, Richardson III 1-4, Gillon 1-8, Paige 0-3, Nixon 0-3).

Team Rebounds: 5.

Blocked Shots: 0.

Turnovers: 11 (Gillon 3, Scott 3, De Ciman 2, Richardson III 2, Nixon).

Steals: 4 (De Ciman, Nixon, Paige, Richardson III).

Technical Fouls: None.

Fresno State

FG

FT

Reb

Min

M-A

M-A

O-T

A

PF

PTS

Edo

35

4-6

6-9

4-8

0

3

14

Russo

28

1-3

5-8

1-7

1

3

8

Lewis

16

4-6

3-4

0-4

0

4

12

Guerrero

26

2-6

0-0

0-4

2

2

5

Harris

38

7-23

3-5

0-3

0

3

19

Watson

12

1-1

0-0

1-3

0

1

2

Taylor

19

1-7

2-2

2-4

1

2

4

Ellison III

19

0-1

0-0

0-6

1

3

0

Bittner

2

0-0

0-0

0-0

0

0

0

Carter II

5

0-1

0-0

0-0

0

3

0

Totals

200

20-54

19-28

9-41

5

24

64

Percentages: FG .370, FT .679.

3-Point Goals: 5-19, .263 (Harris 2-7, Lewis 1-1, Russo 1-2, Guerrero 1-3, Taylor 0-6).

Team Rebounds: 2.

Blocked Shots: 5 (Edo 3, Russo, Watson).

Turnovers: 8 (Harris 3, Taylor 2, Russo, Carter II, Edo).

Steals: 6 (Guerrero, Harris, Russo, Watson, Taylor, Edo).

Technical Fouls: None.

Colorado State

33

23

56

Fresno State

32

32

64

A—8,036. Officials—Dick Cartmell, Michael Irving, Tommy Nunez.

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