It took time last season, even with three seniors in the backcourt including Marvelle Harris, who would go on to be the Mountain West Player of the Year. Fresno State was well into conference play then before the pieces clicked into place, the season taking off only after an ugly loss at San Jose State, where the Bulldogs, really, couldn’t get out of their own way.
But if the second half of an 84-81 loss at Marquette on Tuesday sticks over the next couple of weeks, the Bulldogs could be well ahead of schedule this season.
No, they were not good in the first 20 minutes in Milwaukee, playing tentatively at both ends and trailing by as many as 22 points and at the break by 19.
We’re just connecting. That’s all it was. A lot of important guys left last year and we have new guys that came in and now, we’re right under 10 games into the season so guys are understanding how to mesh, what guys can do, and it’s looking better.
Fresno State center Terrell Carter II
But in that second half, closing to within two points twice in the final minute, they were more efficient than they have been all season and even down the stretch a year ago when making a run into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2001.
“We’re understanding we have to play for each other,” said center Terrell Carter II, who played a major role in the second-half comeback, hitting 7 of 9 shots and scoring 15 of a game- and career-high 21 points.
“We’re just connecting. That’s all it was. A lot of important guys left last year and we have new guys that came in and now, we’re right under 10 games into the season, so guys are understanding how to mesh, what guys can do, and it’s looking better,” he said.
The Bulldogs in the final 20 minutes put up 53 points, scoring 1.472 points per possession. They hit 19 of 30 shots (63.3 percent) and had an assist on 14 of 19 baskets (and 24 of 30 in the game), and they did it on the road against a Big East opponent.
Playing inside out with Carter using his 6-foot-10 frame as a weapon in the low post, they shared the ball and got better shots.
Fresno State (5-3) had a difficult time during its last time at Save Mart Center playing Menlo College, a NAIA team. In the Bulldogs’ first seven games, they were last in the MW in turnovers per game with 14.6, ninth in assists per game with 12.1.
At halftime at Marquette, coach Rodney Terry challenged the Bulldogs: “We’re better than we’re showing.”
The Bulldogs had 24 assists on 30 baskets in their loss at Marquette, the most assists they have had against a Division I opponent since they had 27 in a victory over Seattle on Jan. 24, 2011.
He got the desired results.
“Much better ball movement in the second half,” he said. “In the first half, we had some looks, we just missed some easy shots and we had some drives where we didn’t go in and finish. We weren’t strong in terms of trying to finish, and we kind of let our offense dictate our defense in terms of how hard we wanted to play and the urgency that we wanted to have because of that.”
The Bulldogs need to hold onto that, but they have the pieces and the formula and will get a good test Saturday from Cal Poly at the Save Mart Center.
Having Carter as more of a presence at the offensive end, being able to play inside out, will be a key component. The Bulldogs’ three highest-scoring and most-efficient games this season are the same ones in which Carter has been a factor, scoring 10 or more points. He had 15 when Fresno State beat Lamar 83-64, 10 when the Bulldogs beat Menlo 80-67 and 21 in the 84-81 loss to the Golden Eagles.
“It’s a big deal,” Terry said. “Think about the latter part of the season last year and how effective he was and how people had to deal with him.
(In the first half) we weren’t strong in terms of trying to finish and we kind of let our offense dictate our defense in terms of how hard we wanted to play and the urgency that we wanted to have because of that.
Fresno State coach Rodney Terry
“He’s a load in there. He’s a guy that can score with his back to the basket and plays with good emotion, has a passion for the game. He’s a load to deal with and I think over this first part of the season has been able to play extended minutes that he has never played before, and he has been able to do it effectively.”
Said Carter: “Honestly, I don’t like losing. If coach challenges me to rebound, I have to rebound; and if the guards challenge me, saying that I have to be a presence, that we have to make shots inside before we go outside, I have to respond to it. Nobody likes losing, but I take it as a challenge and the guys just help me respond better.
“But on our team, it could be anybody’s night. Anybody in the starting five to the last guy on the bench can step up. I just think when opportunity comes, you seize it. That’s what I did. I just take it game to game and it’s whatever gets the job done.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE VS. CAL POLY
Saturday: 4 p.m. at Save Mart Center (15,544)
Records: Bulldogs 5-3, Mustangs 5-4
Webcast/radio: Mountain West Network (themw.com)/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
Of note: Cal Poly will come to Fresno on a two-game winning streak, including a 59-47 victory over Texas-San Antonio. The Bulldogs beat UTSA in season their opener 69-66.