The charge for the Fresno State men has been to attack on their terms, to play with pace on offense, move on the court and move the basketball while working for good shots. For the most part, the Bulldogs have done that.
The Bulldogs lead the Mountain West Conference and are tied for 43rd in the nation in field-goal percentage at 47.8.
But they didn’t play particularly well in a messy road loss to San Jose State on Saturday, a game that became a strange stew of officials’ calls that chopped up the afternoon for both teams. The Bulldogs made poor decisions with the ball and took odd shots in the paint as they went around, but rarely through, Spartans shot-blocker Brandon Clarke.
Fresno State attempted 40 of its 55 shots in the lane, most at point-blank range. The problem, along with a season-high 23 turnovers, was the Bulldogs made only half of those close-range shots. They missed layups, basically, including putbacks off rebounds and little runners or jumpers.
They’ve always been extremely difficult for us to play. At the end of the day, you have to make shots against Air Force. They force you to make shots.
Fresno State coach Rodney Terry
That glitch has cropped up occasionally and not just this season. But the Bulldogs (10-6, 2-2) must fix it starting Wednesday at Air Force.
“We had some empty possessions that cost us and in situations where we could have just popped the game and the game would have been over,” coach Rodney Terry said.
“We have to try to convert and do a better job of finishing, especially with advantage basketball. When we did execute at the level and execute the situation and the plays that we called, we scored. We either scored or got fouled, one of the two.”
Fresno State’s challenges Wednesday will not necessarily come at the rim. The Falcons are last in the conference in blocks, 1.8 per game.
Fresno State has won 11 consecutive conference games that have been decided by one possession, the longest streak in the nation. Middle Tennessee State is second with 10 in Conference USA and Ohio is third with eight in the Mid-American Conference.
But the Bulldogs have been tested, even while winning seven in a row in the series. The past four have been decided by one or two points. Fresno State has won them all – 61-59 and 68-66 in 2015 and 56-55 and 64-63 in 2016.
In the Bulldogs’ victory at Clune Arena last season, the Falcons’ zone defenses turned Fresno State into a jump-shooting team, unable to get touches in the paint and instead grinding through its offense on the perimeter.
Fresno State launched 25 3-point attempts and shot just 34.5 percent overall (20 of 58). When the Bulldogs weren’t laying one in off a steal, they were in trouble; they scored 28 points off 17 Air Force turnovers. The Bulldogs scored only 18 in the paint, including 12 on layups off a steal and four off offensive rebounds.
They can’t afford to play tentatively with the ball Wednesday. Fresno State is fourth in the conference in 3-point shooting at 35.5 percent, but that is almost all junior guard Jahmel Taylor, who is ninth in the nation at 48.8 percent (42 of 86). Take him out of the equation and the Bulldogs are shooting 29.4 percent (55 of 187).
“They’ve always been extremely difficult for us to play,” Terry said. “At the end of the day, you have to make shots against Air Force. They force you to make shots.
We have to try to convert and do a better job of finishing, especially with advantage basketball. When we did execute at the level and execute the situation and the plays that we called, we scored.
Fresno State coach Rodney Terry, on lessons of the highs but mostly lows in a loss at San Jose State
“You know what they’re going to do on offense, on defense. They’re not going to change what they do. Whether they’re up or whether they’re behind, they’re going to be the same team.”
Et cetera – The Bulldogs’ streak of 11 consecutive conference wins in games decided by one possession is the longest in the nation, just ahead of Middle Tennessee State. The Blue Raiders have won their past 10 in Conference USA decided by three or fewer points, including 80-77 over Rice on Jan. 5.
▪ The Bulldogs have won 12 of 13 following a loss.
▪ Senior Paul Watson is 11 points from moving into the top 20 on the Fresno State career scoring list. Watson, leading the Bulldogs at 13.6 points per game, has shot 42.1 percent and scored 1,202 points in 118 games. Ja’Vance Coleman, who played from 2004-07, is 20th with 1,212 points.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE AT AIR FORCE
- Wednesday: 6 p.m. at Clune Arena (5,558) in Colorado Springs, Colo.
- Records: Bulldogs 10-6, 2-2 Mountain West; Falcons 8-8, 1-2
- Webcast/radio: Mountain West Network (themwc.com)/KFIG (AM 940)
- Notable: The Falcons lost 85-58 on Saturday at Colorado State. Air Force committed a season-high 18 turnovers, leading to 26 points for the Rams, and hit just 5 of 19 shots (26.3 percent) from 3-point range.