Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct Bryson Williams with 12 points.
From the start it was clear that Fresno State could get what it wanted, when it wanted, against Menlo College, an NAIA team that had come to Save Mart Center on Wednesday night for a $5,000 game guarantee check and some exercise. Maybe that was the problem for the home team.
While the Bulldogs got some loud plays and an 80-67 victory, a concentrated effort would have been far more impressive and there they fell short.
The Oaks, who had played the likes of Multnomah, New Hope Christian and Cal State Martime the past few weeks, were thoroughly outclassed. But they took advantage of the Bulldogs’ laxity – not a particularly good look – before they were worn down and out by the disparity in talent on the floor.
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Menlo got to the rim with unnerving ease in the first half, scoring 18 points in the paint. And after the Bulldogs started to pay a little attention, the Oaks just knocked down open shots from the 3-point line. They started 1 of 9, but ended the half hitting three of their last six 3’s and trailed only 35-34 at halftime. They also outrebounded the Bulldogs 20-18.
Fresno State (4-2) applied appropriate defensive pressure and got away in the second half – Menlo hit only 29 percent of its shots – and now goes back out on the road for games Saturday at Drake and Tuesday at Marquette.
Jaron Hopkins led the Bulldogs with 18 points, hitting 9 of 12 shots. Freshman Bryson Williams had 12 points and six rebounds, Deshon Taylor 11 and Paul Watson and Terrell Carter II both had 10.
Stat of the game – After playing poorly at the defensive end in the first half, the Bulldogs allowed Menlo (5-5) to hit 9 of 31 shots (29 percent) over the final 20 minutes. The Oaks scored 18 points in the paint in the first half, but six in the second.
Quotable – Fresno State forward Paul Watson: “I wouldn’t say the energy was where it needed to be, but we adjusted that at halftime, fixed what we needed to and played hard in the second half. The defensive intensity picked up. The block outs definitely picked up. We had quite a few missed block outs in the first half. Those two areas are what we really focused on at halftime.”
Notable – The Bulldogs had 13 turnovers playing on the road against a Pac-12 team when winning last out at Oregon State. They had 14 turnovers against Menlo, which had forced an average of 14.3 turnovers in nine games against like opponents from NAIA Division I and D-II and the National Christian College Athletic Association.
Coming up – These games against outclassed opponents on the schedule – Menlo, The Master’s and Pacific Union last season, Bristol and Saint Katherine the season before that – would look a lot different if the Bulldogs played the first half like they play the second. But, no worries. The Bulldogs are learning. “You have to get guys to understand that we have faceless opponents at this time of year,” coach Rodney Terry said. “It’s about us. That’s the growth of your team. If it was already that way right now, we wouldn’t have any room for growth.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE VS. DRAKE
- Saturday: Noon at Knapp Center (7,152)
- Records: Bulldogs 4-2; Drake 1-6
- Webcast/radio: ESPN3/KFIG (AM 940)
- Of note: Drake, also nicknamed the Bulldogs, fell 75-77 at DePaul on Wednesday night. The team’s one win this season came 76-61 over Simpson on Nov. 19.