It was three games back that Fresno State coach Rodney Terry made a switch at the point guard position, starting Deshon Taylor and bringing Jaron Hopkins off the bench, and the flip has been anything but a flop for the Bulldogs.
They beat Boise State, then Colorado State, and on Saturday they shook off a rough 10-hour bus ride to Reno and beat Nevada 81-76, sweeping the season series from the Wolf Pack and recording a fourth victory in a row over a team that was in first place in the Mountain West Conference at tipoff.
Taylor and Hopkins were instrumental in getting it done.
It was just about staying poised, staying confident in ourselves that we were going to win this game. We just had to take it possession by possession and close it out.
Fresno State point guard Jaron Hopkins
After Taylor helped get the Bulldogs off to a fast start – something they had not managed in losing four consecutive games away from Save Mart Center, three in conference play – Hopkins closed out the Wolf Pack with a stellar final 13 minutes.
Nevada had cut a double-digit deficit to just 46-44 at that point, but Hopkins got into the lane and scored on three consecutive possessions starting with a big dunk. That was followed by a layup and a floater up and over Nevada forward Cameron Oliver, the leading shot blocker in the conference.
Hopkins, a junior point guard, got into the paint and hit Bryson Williams for an easy basket, then knocked down a jump shot.
Of the Bulldogs’ final 10 baskets Hopkins had a hand in eight, scoring six with two assists on his way to another hefty stat line – 19 points, six rebounds and five assists.
“I just know that I’m capable of making some plays,” said Hopkins, who got off to a slow start, finding foul trouble and turning over the ball five times in nine first-half minutes.
“It was about being aggressive, getting to the Mountain West and making some plays in the lane. We knew we were going to score or get fouled because we knew some of their guys were in foul trouble a little bit, so it was about attacking and getting in the lane.”
In its victory at Nevada, Fresno State had a 35-22 advantage in rebounds, the fifth time in eight conference games the Bulldogs have been plus in rebounding margin and the third time they have been plus-10 or more.
Fresno State (13-7, 5-3 in the MW) had five players score in 10 or more points – Hopkins, Deshon Taylor (18), Williams (14), Paul Watson (10) and Jahmel Taylor (10).
The Wolf Pack, fueled by 10,236 spectators, the largest crowd at the Lawlor Events Center this season, was right there through that entire stretch. The Bulldogs’ lead bounced between nine points and one point, but every time Nevada closed, Hopkins and the Bulldogs had an answer. Fresno State led for all but the first 45 seconds that it took them to take a 3-0 lead on a 3-pointer by Watson.
“We kept playing,” Terry said. “We just said, ‘You know what, guys? It’s going to be a 40-minute game. We know this. Keep playing. Stay the course. This is a long game. There’s a lot of time in this game. They’re going to make runs. Just keep working the game.”
Hopkins did, as well.
“It’s about being an older player, being more mature,” he said. “We knew we had to take care of the ball in this game and in the first half we didn’t do that, especially me. As a point guard I have to take care of the ball better, and in the second half I did that.”
“Even when he wasn’t making plays for himself he was making plays for other guys, so much so that they had to change their defense,” Terry said.
We kept playing. We just said, “You know what guys? It’s going to be a 40-minute game. We know this. Keep playing. Stay the course. This is a long game. There’s a lot of time in this game. They’re going to make runs. Just keep working the game.
Fresno State coach Rodney Terry
“They had to adjust to us and try to get the ball out of his hands, much like we were trying to do with (Nevada’s Marcus) Marshall,” Terry said. “We were trying to get the ball out of his hands. I mean, he comes across half court and he’s in range.”
In beating the Wolf Pack (16-4, 5-2), Fresno State is in range of first place in the conference, which appeared a long shot after it went on the road and lost back-to-back games at San Jose State and Air Force. The Bulldogs are tied with New Mexico in third, just one-half game behind Nevada and Boise State.
But it was after those losses that Terry made the switch at the point, and Deshon Taylor and Hopkins have been sharpening it ever since. Jahmel Taylor also has had opportunities to play with the ball in his hands.
Since the change, the minutes have changed. Hopkins has averaged 25 minutes per game, down from 30.5 when he was starting. Deshon Taylor has averaged 32.7 minutes per game, up from the 20.2 he played when coming off the bench.
But, together, they have been very efficient.
Hopkins has hit 18 of 31 shots and Deshon Taylor has hit 15 of 26, a combined 57.9 percent. At the 3-point line, Hopkins is 0 of 2, but Taylor is 7 of 15, a combined 41.2 percent.
Hopkins has averaged 15.7 points in the three games, up from 12.1 when he was in the starting lineup. Taylor has averaged 18.7 points, up from 5.2 when he was coming off the bench.
They also have 30 rebounds and 17 assists between them, and even with six turnovers by Hopkins against the Wolf Pack they have just 10 combined in the three games.
And the Bulldogs? They’re 3-0.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
VS. UTAH STATE
- Saturday, Jan. 28: 6 p.m. at Dee Glen Smith Spectrum (10,270) in Logan, Utah
- Records: Bulldogs 13-7, 5-3 Mountain West; Aggies 8-10, 2-5
- Webcast/radio: Mountain West Network/KFIG (AM 940)
- Notable: Utah State on Saturday lost its third game in a row, 64-56 to Colorado State, and will play at New Mexico on Tuesday before seeing the Bulldogs. Jalen Moore, the Aggies’ leading scorer, had 14 points in the loss to the Rams and has scored in double-digits in 31 consecutive games, the ninth-longest streak in school history.