It’s college basketball. That is the point Fresno State coach Rodney Terry made – or tried to make – after the Bulldogs lost at Utah State on Saturday.
In the Mountain West, road teams are 18-31 in conference play. In the Pacific-12 Conference, 20-29. In the West Coast Conference, 16-28. In the Western Athletic Conference, 12-14.
Those wins don’t come easily.
But the Bulldogs have missed – if not the point – a great deal of opportunity in losing 78-65 at Utah State and previously at Air Force and at San Jose State.
We have a recipe for winning on the road, which we’ve done, and we have a recipe for losing on the road, which we’ve done.
Fresno State coach Rodney Terry
The Aggies were mired in a four-game losing streak and tied for last place in the conference when taking on the Bulldogs. The Spartans were 0-2 and in last place when Fresno State visited the Event Center. The Falcons were 1-2 when they played the Bulldogs, had just been drilled at Colorado State by 27 points, and after beating Fresno State lost their next three games.
A quick check of the standings: Air Force is tied for seventh in the MW, and Utah State and San Jose State are in a three-way tie for last place.
That’s opportunity, gone.
And it could prove costly come conference tournament time unless the Bulldogs can play more consistently on the road like the team that won at conference-leading Nevada before losing at conference-trailing Utah State.
That is the same Bulldogs team, playing very differently.
“We have a recipe for winning on the road, which we’ve done, and we have a recipe for losing on the road, which we’ve done,” Terry said. “We understand what those things are and that we have to be better with them.”
Against the Aggies, Fresno State shot a season-low 35 percent and allowed its opponent to hit a season-high 56.4.
The Bulldogs had 17 offensive rebounds but 16 second-chance points. They forced 19 turnovers but scored only 18 points off them.
Utah State was 29 of 39 at the foul line, including 32 attempts in the second half. Fresno State was called for eight fouls in the first half, 20 in the second.
Utah State also got to the line 39 times, the most by a Bulldogs opponent this season.
And when Fresno State cut an eight-point deficit to 37-36 with 14:20 to go, it faltered.
The Bulldogs forced a turnover, but Jahmel Taylor missed a short shot in the lane that would have given Fresno State the lead.
Terrell Carter II came up with a steal, but Deshon Taylor missed a three. They got a team rebound, but Jaron Hopkins missed in the lane. And after the Aggies’ Sam Merrill hit two free throws, Paul Watson had a turnover that led to a lay up, and Utah State took off again, its lead moving back toward double digits.
The Bulldogs came up empty on seven consecutive possessions.
“You can’t turn the ball over for points,” Terry said. “If you turn the ball over for points, that’s going to be a problem for you. If you put guys on the foul line, that’s going to be a problem for you. And then you have to not give them second-chance points. That’s what you can’t do. We did those things tonight.”
That didn’t happen when winning at Nevada, which only amplifies the opportunities lost. They can win at Nevada, but not at Air Force, San Jose State or Utah State?
Last season, when advancing to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2001, Fresno State was 5-4 in its conference road games. Midway through MW play this season, the Bulldogs are 1-4.
That could affect the Bulldogs’ seeding for the conference tournament, and the teams ahead of them in the standings are well ahead on the road. Nevada is 3-1, Boise State is 4-1, and Colorado State and New Mexico are 3-2. Fresno State is 1-4 in conference road games.
The Bulldogs need to get that recipe right. They get a second shot at Air Force on Wednesday, this time at Save Mart Center. That is followed by a home game against San Diego State, and then the Bulldogs are back on the road at Wyoming and at Colorado State.
They also have games at San Diego State and Boise State, needing wins for a first-round bye in the conference tournament.
“It’s college basketball, man. Good luck with it,” said Terry, insisting the focus is on Wednesday and the Falcons. “Look around the country. Don’t try to act like we’re the only ones trying to figure it out on the road. The best teams in the country are trying to figure it out on the road.
“We know what we have to do. We’ve been doing this long enough to know. You have to try to go in there and take care of your business and do what you’re supposed to do and execute. You just have to do it. You have to go play.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE VS. AIR FORCE
- Wednesday: 7 p.m. at Save Mart Center
- Records: Bulldogs 13-8, 5-4 Mountain West; Falcons 10-11, 3-5
- Webcast/radio: Root Sports, Mountain West Network (themwc.com)/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Notable: Air Force will come in well rested and off a victory over San Diego State on Tuesday, and the Falcons sliced up the Bulldogs’ defense when these teams met Jan. 11 at Clune Arena. Air Force hit 51.9 percent of its shots in its 81-72 victory, the highest allowed by the Bulldogs in conference play before Utah State hit 56.4 percent on Saturday at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum. Hayden Graham led the Falcons with 21 points and Trevor Lyons added 18. Air Force also out-rebounded the Bulldogs 33-22, and had 11 offensive rebounds.