When the NCAA gave schools the green light to add a third basketball exhibition this season for charitable purposes, Fresno State went hunting.
It had a cause in the wildfires that devastated Northern California. It had a need, given an early schedule that will not be too taxing or telling.
And it found a perfect match in Saint Mary’s, a team picked to win the West Coast Conference and that with 6-foot-11 center Jock Landale could provide a rough test for the Bulldogs’ big men.
It was exactly that, and the Bulldogs got the expected from a backcourt led by Deshon Taylor and some positive early answers on the offensive end at least from Bryson Williams and Terrell Carter II before falling 85-76 to the Gaels on Wednesday at McKeon Pavilion.
“We got a lot out of this,” coach Rodney Terry said. “Saint Mary’s is a program that we have a lot of respect for. We knew this was going to be a real test for us on the road. I thought that we competed at a pretty good level for our first outing.
“We have some areas that we need to continue to get better with. But we’re right where we need to be with four and a half minutes left – it was a one-possession game.”
The Bulldogs’ bigs are one of the more pressing questions for Terry headed into his seventh season – the Bulldogs play exhibitions Monday against Pacific Union and Nov. 3 against UC Merced and open Nov. 10 against UC Santa Cruz, all at Save Mart Center.
Carter had 10 points and six rebounds in 26 minutes on the floor – a number he managed to play only twice last season, none of those games in conference play.
Williams hit 7 of 12 shots in scoring 16 points with six rebounds, two blocks (one of those on Landale at the rim) and one steal.
“That will be a growth curve for our team all year along,” Terry said.
“This game taught us a lot. It taught us a lot in terms of how engaged we have to be for 40 minutes. We have to play for 40 minutes.”
What else – Deshon Taylor led Fresno State with 22 points, hitting 7 of 10 shots and 7 of 8 free throws. He also had two rebounds and two assists in 36 minutes.
Hopkins had 11 and Ray Bowles, the graduate transfer from Pacific, scored 10 points with four rebounds and three assists.
Stat(s) of the game – Fresno State scored 38 points in the paint, eight more than Saint Mary’s. The Bulldogs also outrebounded the Gaels 29-26.
Landale had 13 points and seven rebounds in 30 minutes.
Notable – The Bulldogs got only seven points off the bench, outscored there 23-7.
Jahmel Taylor had five of those points, hitting 2 of 4 shots including 1 of 3 beyond the 3-point line. Nate Grimes had the other basket.
Johnny McWilliams and Sam Bittner did not attempt a shot in 5 minutes; Bittner did have one assist, but turned it over twice.
Those minutes off the bench bear watching once into the regular season.
What happened – The Bulldogs were down 73-70 with 4:32 to go, but the game got away through some empty possessions.
“We just had a lot of unforced turnovers and stuff like that in the last four minutes of the game,” Deshon Taylor said. “They outrebounded us, plus they got a lot of loose balls that we could have come up with they came up with and that turned the game.
“But they’re most likely a team that’s going to make the (NCAA) tournament. They’re picked to win their conference. This was a good test for us and they’re probably going to be the biggest and best-shooting team that we play. We just have to go out there and play hard and we’ll be good.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
Fresno State men’s basketball schedule
Home games at Save Mart Center
at Saint Mary’s (exhibition)
Pacific Union (exhibition)
UC Merced (exhibition)
UC Santa Cruz
Cal State Northridge
Evansville at Cancun, Mexico
George Mason or Louisiana Tech at Cancun
3 or 5:30 p.m.
at Long Beach State
Cal State Bakersfield
at Cal Poly
Cal State Monterey Bay
at Utah State
at Colorado State
at San Diego State
at Air Force
San Diego State
at San Jose State
4 or 7 p.m.
at New Mexico
Mountain West tournament at UNLV