Fresno State hit 58.2 percent of its shots while holding Drake to 40.3 percent. It held an advantage in rebounding, blocked a season-high eight shots, scored in the paint and at the 3-point line. The Bulldogs were well clear, had a 20-point lead with 10:58 to go. And, they ended up almost beating themselves with some atrocious free throw shooting and an inability to take care of the basketball down the stretch.
They went to overtime, after leading by 20 with almost three quarters of the game gone.
There, though, the Bulldogs were able to escape Drake and The Knapp Center with a 78-76 victory. Coming out of a timeout with nine seconds to go, point guard Jaron Hopkins gave Ore Arogundade a little stutter step at the top of the key and drove right by him and to the rim for an easy game-winning layup.
At the end of the day, you have to value taking care of the basketball. We made some careless turnovers down the stretch that you can’t make, and then when you go to the free throw line and you miss the front end of a 1-and-1, that’s basically a turnover, as well.
Fresno State coach Rodney Terry
“That was a play coach drew up,” said Paul Watson, who hit 8 of 11 shots, matching Jahmel Taylor with a game-high 19 points. “It was designed for somebody to go downhill, try to make a play at the basket, try to get a foul. If not, I was coming off a stagger screen so we had two looks – and Jaron, he executed the first one and got a big basket for us, which pretty much won us the game.”
That one, at least, was executed perfectly.
“The guys did a good job with that,” coach Rodney Terry said. “We got exactly what we wanted on that. Even when they tried to take Jaron away initially from it, our guys knew the pressure release, and we still got what we wanted. Good execution. We made the play that we needed to make to get it done.”
That the Bulldogs were even in that situation is a bit troubling, though. The execution? Not there. They survived one Drake run, early in the second half. A 12-point halftime lead was cut to seven before Fresno State reset itself at the defensive end, went on a 10-0 run and eventually led 60-40 with 10:58 to play. It was not safe, though.
The Bulldogs have won their past 11 games that have been decided by three points or less, two this season. They beat Texas-San Antonio 69-66 and Drake 78-76 on Saturday.
The Bulldogs hit only 6 of 19 free throws, including 1 of 9 in the second half; that’s 31.6 and 11.1 percent. They turned the ball over a season-high 22 times, including 12 in the second half; they turned it over 18 times in a loss at Save Mart Center to Prairie View A&M, the most unsightly blemish on a 5-2 record.
Hopkins had a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds but also seven turnovers. Cullen Russo had another puzzling game for the first 40 minutes, scoring four points with five assists and five turnovers before exerting himself in overtime. Russo scored five of the Bulldogs’ nine points and also had two rebounds and one steal in overtime.
“That’s kind of the way we do it,” Terry joked. “That’s kind of the way we’ve always done it – the hard way. We’ve always done it the hard way. We’ve never made anything easy.
“I thought for the better part of the game we did a pretty good job executing. There were a couple of times that we needed to make harder cuts – these guys kept playing, they ran through the passing lanes a couple of times. But at the end of the day, you have to value taking care of the basketball. We made some careless turnovers down the stretch that you can’t make, and then when you go to the free throw line and you miss the front end of a 1-and-1, that’s basically a turnover, as well. It kept them in the game.”
It was designed for somebody to go downhill, try to make a play at the basket, try to get a foul. If not, I was coming off a stagger screen so we had two looks – and Jaron, he executed the first one and got a big basket for us, which pretty much won us the game.
Fresno State forward Paul Watson
Drake had the ball last in regulation – a possession that ended with a steal by Bryson Williams, the freshman from Roosevelt High. And, at the end, that was the Bulldogs’ edge. Drake (1-7) entered on a four-game losing streak, the last three by six, five and two points.
Fresno State is now 2-0 this season in games decided by one possession and has now won its last 11 such games; its last single-possession loss was 71-68 at Pacific on Dec. 20, 2014. But if there is one play in a game to execute, it would be the one at the end of overtime with the game on the line – and they did that.
“Yeah,” Watson said. “Definitely.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE VS. MARQUETTE
- Tuesday: 4:30 p.m. at Bradley Center (18,850)
- Records: Bulldogs 5-2, Golden Eagles 5-2
- TV/radio: CBSSN/KFIG (AM 940)
- Of note: Marquette, which is 17th in the nation in scoring with 86.7 points per game, will play at Georgia on Sunday.