Fresno State is not all there, let’s start with that. The team that ripped off seven wins in a row at the end of November and start of December, putting up 82.7 points per game while knocking down 51.5 percent of its shots, got knocked off track by an injury to point guard Jaron Hopkins and still is in a recovery mode.
But five games into Mountain West Conference play, the Bulldogs have played their way into trouble far more often than they have played clear of it, and it hasn’t mattered much that the starting five has been back on the floor or that the playing rotation has been intact.
In a 70-64 loss to Boise State on Tuesday at the Save Mart Center, they were dreadful in the first half against the Broncos’ zone and caught off guard when they threw anything more at them.
Fresno State hit just 8 of 27 shots in the first 20 minutes, including 0 of 8 at the 3-point line, and turned it over six times, playing to just .583 points per possession.
Coach Rodney Terry made note of their inclination to settle for jump shots, but when they did go to the rim too often they were out of control.
The Bulldogs in the game were 21 of 55 (38.2 percent).
Break that down and it’s 4 of 14 at the 3-point line (28.6 percent) and 17 of 41 inside the 3-point line (41.5 percent). Break down those 2-point shots further and it’s 8 of 19 on jump shots (42.1 percent) and 9 of 22 on layups (40.9 percent).
They struggled through two stretches of four minutes without a field goal, both in the first half, which were the seventh and eighth for them in conference play.
The ugly …
▪ 6:58, vs. Air Force – 0 of 5
▪ 5:31, at Utah State – 0 of 4
▪ 5:23, vs. Boise State – 0 of 8
▪ 5:19, vs. Boise State – 0 of 5
▪ 5:02, vs. Nevada – 0 of 5
▪ 4:52, at Colorado State – 0 of 6
▪ 4:22, at Colorado State – 0 of 5
▪ 4:12, at Utah State – 0 of 4
Terry and the Bulldogs need to find some answers, because there isn’t a discernible break in the schedule the way they are playing.
New Mexico is up next on Saturday at the Save Mart Center. While the Lobos are 10th in the Mountain West in field goal percentage defense (46.1), they also are leading the conference in turnovers forced (17.7) and in steals (7.8).
After that, the Bulldogs are back on the road at San Diego State and at Air Force, and then come back home for games against UNLV and Utah State.
The zone really should not have thrown them – not to that degree. The Bulldogs knew they would see some from the Broncos, and maybe a lot of it.
“At the end of the day, without looking at the tape, I thought we settled a lot,” Terry said. “We said going into this game we can’t settle. They’re playing zone for a reason. They’re playing zone because they can’t guard us man to man. When they’re playing zone we can’t settle for jump shots and make it a pickup game.
“We have to do what we want to do in terms of our execution. When we did that, we got the ball where we needed to get it and we got high percentage shots. But when we settled and let those guys off the hook, you can’t do that against that kind of team.”
How the Bulldogs respond will determine what kind of team they will be, and whether they are playing on the first day of the Mountain West Tournament in March, something they have not done since 2014.
The big guard
The Bulldogs have had trouble against big guards this season and ran into another in the 6-foot-7 Chandler Hutchison, the preseason player of the year in the Mountain West.
Ray Bowles Jr., who had picked up Utah State guard Koby McEwen in the second half of the Bulldogs’ overtime loss at Utah State last week, was the primary defender against Hutchison and was not giving up much easily through the first 27 minutes.
But when Bowles subbed out briefly with 13:01 to go, Hutchison took off.
Just 10 seconds later, the Broncos’ guard scored on a drive to the basket when defended by Jaron Hopkins. The next trip down the floor Hutchison again went to the rim and was fouled by Hopkins, hitting one of two foul shots. Then, after a Bulldogs’ turnover, he again got into the paint and was fouled by Terrell Carter II and hit two free throws.
By the time Terry could get Bowles back in the game, Hutchison had scored five points in three possessions and drawing Bowles, Hopkins and Sam Bittner the rest of the way was able to keep the Broncos out front even as the Bulldogs closed.
Hutchison finished with a game-high 21 points, but hit only 3 of 12 shots. He was 15 of 18 at the foul line, including 11 of 14 in the final 13:01. To that point, seeing mostly Bowles, he was 2 of 8 and 4 of 4 at the free throw line in scoring eight points with three assists and three turnovers.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
NEW MEXICO AT FRESNO STATE
- Saturday: 4 p.m. at Save Mart Center
- TV/radio: ESPN3/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Records: Bulldogs 12-6, 2-3 Mountain West; Lobos 7-10, 2-2
- Of note: New Mexico plays Wyoming on Wednesday at Dreamstyle Arena – The Pit – and goes into that game off a 33-point victory over San Jose State. The Lobos have taken over the top spot in the Mountain West in steals, averaging 7.8 per game. The Bulldogs have led the conference in the past three seasons and were leading the MW after 13 games with 8.6 steals per game. New Mexico also is leading the conference in 3-point field goal attempts with 536 – Chris McNeal has hit 31.5 percent of his 108 shots and Anthony Mathis has hit 45.2 percent of his 93 attempts. That is an area where Fresno State has struggled. The Bulldogs going into their game on Tuesday against Boise State were ranked 10th in the conference in 3-point field goal percentage with opponents hitting 39.0 percent of their shots (124 of 318).