Fresno State is 1-2 in the Mountain West after blowing a 10-point lead with four minutes and some change to go in an 81-79 overtime loss at Utah State, and in that game the Aggies’ Koby McEwen not only highlighted an ongoing issue for the Bulldogs he also might have provided a partial answer to it.
He did it by hitting 10 of 18 shots, getting to the foul line eight times and scoring 28 points, which is not out of the ordinary for the sophomore guard.
McEwen had 28 last season in a win over UNLV, 27 in a victory over San Jose State at the conference tournament, 26 when Utah State beat Nevada.
But Fresno State at the start of conference play is not guarding guards and has had trouble in particular with bigger guards.
“Obviously, we’re looking for somebody that wants to be a stopper for us defensively, that takes on the challenge of guarding the other team’s best perimeter player,” coach Rodney Terry said.
In three MW games, starting backcourts have hit 34 of 65 shots (52.3 percent), including 15 of 29 from the 3-point line (51.7 percent), and have 16 assists – and that includes a victory over Air Force, one of the poorest shooting teams in the conference.
▪ Nevada with Lindsey Drew and Kendall Stephens was 11 of 19 and 6 of 9 with five assists.
▪ Air Force with Jacob Van, Trevor Lyons and Keaton Van Soelen was 7 of 18 and 3 of 7 with four assists.
▪ Utah State with McEwen, Sam Merrill and Diogo Brito was 16 of 29 and 6 of 13 with seven assists.
Fresno State has had that piece in the past in a Julien Lewis or a Paul Watson, and it has been a valuable tool. In a game against Wyoming when Watson was a junior, Terry deployed the 6-7 wing on 6-2 Josh Adams in the second half and by taking him out all but shuttered the Cowboys’ entire offense. They hit 52.6 percent of their shots in scoring 37 points in the first half , 20.8 percent and 23 points in the second.
“We’re still looking for someone to emerge and take on that role and do that for us,” Terry said. “That’s a big role. All teams that win at a high level, they have guys that can do that for them. You’re not putting it on one guy, but you’re trying to at least have somebody that can take a guy out that is a big scorer for the other team.”
Watson, who is now with the Knicks’ G-League team, was a resourceful defensive weapon and had the length, athleticism and versatility to guard the one through four positions.
It takes more than one player, but until the Bulldogs get more from their guards they could have to deploy Ray Bowles Jr. in that role more often.
Terry did that against McEwen in the second half, with positive results.
McEwen, 5 of 8 in the first half, was 3 of 8 in the second. Utah State went from hitting 58.3 percent of its shots in the first half to 34.6 percent in the second.
“Ray did a really good job in the second half,” Terry said. “(McEwen) is a big guard and we had to find someone who could sit down and guard him. I thought Ray did a nice job accepting that challenge.
“Whenever we’ve challenged Ray to do it, he has done it. Now, he gives up some in doing that because any time you guard that hard it takes some legs from you in terms of offense, but Ray is not about that. Ray is about winning so whatever it takes for us to try to get things done he’ll jump up in that role and do it.”
Forward Nate Grimes was on the floor for 20 minutes at Utah State and scored four points, blocked two shots and had 10 of the Bulldogs’ 28 rebounds.
His rebound rate: 21.1 per 40 minutes.
That, not surprisingly, leads the Mountain West by a wide margin. Second is UNLV forward Brandon McCoy at 14.9, third is the Rebels’ Shakur Juiston at 14.0.
The Bulldogs were up 69-59 with 4:12 to go and the Aggies at that point were in a stretch where they had hit just two of 14 shots.
It turned on a 3-pointer not by McEwen or Merrill, the Aggies’ leading scorer at 15.1 points per game. It was Dwayne Brown Jr., a 6-6 forward who had hit just 11 of 35 shots from the 3-point line as he lined up that shot.
Fresno State missed its last five shots in regulation, including four right at the rim. Deshon Taylor missed on two drives and Bowles and Jahmel Taylor missed one each. The Bulldogs hit 32 of 62 shots (51.6 percent), but 16 of those misses were layups.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE AT COLORADO STATE
- Saturday: 2:30 p.m. at Moby Arena, Fort Collins, Colo.
- TV/radio: CBSSportsNetwork/KFIG (AM 940)
- Records: Bulldogs 11-5, 1-2 Mountain West; Rams 8-8, 1-2
- Of note: The Rams lost to San Diego State 77-68 on Tuesday at Moby, snapping an 11-game winning streak on their home court. Colorado State had a one-point lead with 5:54 to go, but the Aztecs closed on a 17-7 run. The Rams were outrebounded by a 45-32 margin and also hit only 40.3 percent of their shots.