Fresno State made it into a third overtime, playing from behind most of the way, having to answer and finding ways to do just that. But down two with 48 seconds remaining, having just missed a 3-pointer in a bid to get ahead of No. 25 Wyoming, coach Rodney Terry had a difficult choice.
Should the Bulldogs play for a stop — and they had plenty of those in critical junctures in the first 50-plus minutes. Or foul and put the Cowboys on the line, where they also had some huge breaks with Larry Nance Jr. missing two free throws in the second overtime when one would have ended the game.
The Bulldogs hunkered down and played defense and were within seconds of getting that stop and another chance to tie. But senior Charles Hankerson, 1 of 5 at the 3-point line to that point, knocked one down from the left wing with 14 seconds left in the game and the shot clock nearly at zero and that was it.
The Cowboys emerged with a 70-65 victory in the duel of Mountain West Conference co-leaders Saturday at Save Mart Center in front of 8,118 — the Bulldogs’ largest home crowd of the season.
“I thought there at the end that we were going to hang it on our defense and see if we couldn’t come up with one more stop and if we were able to then we could come back down and try to play advantage basketball and if we didn’t and we needed to take a timeout then we’d take a timeout and set something up,” Terry said. “But we weren’t able to get the stop that we needed to get.
“They threw one in. We were right there. We were right where we needed to be and the basketball gods threw one in for them on that one. That’s a difficult shot and he made it.”
Hankerson, who despite the 1 of 5 came in as the Cowboys’ top 3-point shooter at 44.1%, said he was “just thinking, ‘make a play.’ ”
“I’m thankful my teammates trust me to in those positions to make a play. I’m glad I could come through. I got a good rip on the ball. As soon as it left my hands I knew it was good.”
And, that was too bad for the Bulldogs (9-10, 4-2), who had been tied with Wyoming and New Mexico atop the conference. They got two big free throws from forward Alex Davis with 28 seconds remaining in regulation to force overtime, then a runner in the lane from Marvelle Harris with 14 seconds to go to send the teams into a second extra session.
Fresno State got a third life with the misses at the line by Nance, who entered as a 79.5% free thrower this season.
Once into the third OT, the Bulldogs had to answer.
Wyoming’s Josh Adams got an easy basket on a drive past Julien Lewis, but Lewis came back and hit a short jumper to tie the score at 63. Adams got into the lane again and made two free throws after he was fouled by Karachi Edo, but Harris came back to hit a jumper.
The Cowboys (16-3, 5-1) missed as did the Bulldogs at their end before Nance made his way right of the rim and scored to give Wyoming a 67-65 lead.
Lewis got an open look at a 3-pointer from the left baseline, but his shot bounced off the rim. The Cowboys’ Riley Grabau grabbed the rebound and the Bulldogs were left needing one more stop that they nearly were able to get.
“It’s tough to lose a game like this,” said Paul Watson, who led the Bulldogs with 19 points. “You just have to have a short-term memory and understand that you have another game coming up and you have to be ready to move on to the next one.”
Fresno State had chances, but had to work hard to get clean looks against the Wyoming zone. When they did, the Bulldogs too often failed to knock down shots.
The Bulldogs hit only 25 of 70 (35.7%) including 7 of 34 beyond the 3-point line (20.6%) and made it to a third overtime even with several scorers struggling.
Harris had 13 points, going 6 of 15 overall and 1 of 8 on 3-pointers. Lewis had nine points and 10 rebounds, hitting only 4 of 18, including 0 of 6 from distance. Cezar Guerrero came off the bench and scored 12 points, but was only 5 of 15 and 2 of 10. Emmanuel Owootoah was just 1 of 6 and 1 of 3.
“It was a game of a lot of opportunities for both teams,” Terry said. “We had opportunities, they had opportunities, to both step up and win the ball game. They made a couple of really big plays to win the game.”