This was a hard game to lose, which for a time Wednesday night was a good thing for Fresno State.
Matched up against overmatched San Jose State, which had not beaten a Division I opponent this season in 19 tries and had lost its Mountain West road games by 50, 34, 28, 26 and 22 points, the Bulldogs, even in a depleted state, would have to play some poor basketball to not snap a two-game losing streak.
They did struggle in stretches, but still had more than enough to jet away when required in a 81-63 victory on Wednesday night at the Save Mart Center — a victory that allowed the Bulldogs to move into a three-way tie for fourth in the conference, rather than sixth, and remain two games behind leaders Wyoming and San Diego State.
And ultimately they did right themselves a bit after double-digit road losses last week at San Diego State and Colorado State, even with a roster that is in flux.
“I feel like we just needed a spark,” sophomore forward Karachi Edo said. “Just play hard and needing a win, basically.”
The Bulldogs played a second game without senior forward Alex Davis, who last week was suspended indefinitely by coach Rodney Terry for what the university said was actions detrimental to the team. And they also were without redshirt sophomore forward Braeden Anderson, who was released from the team earlier in the day so that he could focus on graduating this spring and gaining entrance to law school.
Fresno State had only nine scholarship players in uniform, including freshman Eugene Artison, who is redshirting this season. Paul Watson started at the four and Edo at the five, and behind them were only freshman Terrell Carter II and walk-on Jerrod Patton.
With Cezar Guerrero making his first start at point guard this season, though, the Bulldogs did have better player and ball movement at the offensive end, got inside the Spartans’ zone and got out in transition much more than they had over the past few games. They had 17 assists (a season-high against a Division I opponent) on 27 baskets after collecting only 10 assists in the two games last week.
“We talked about that before we started the game,” Terry said. “We had it on the board. We had our stats on the board in terms of when we’ve been really good this year we’ve had 15 or more assists in a game …, but sharing the basketball and moving the basketball tonight, player movement and ball movement, was a major emphasis going into this game and I thought our guys did that tonight almost a little bit too much. In the first half we passed up some really good shots, open shots, but nevertheless they really were making the effort to do it.”
They hit 27 of 53 (50.9%), much better than the 36.5% and 32.7% against the Aztecs and Rams and, really, much of the season. Fresno State has hit 50% of its shots in four games — against tiny Saint Katherine College and Bristol University and twice now against the Spartans.
But they also were outrebounded again (32-27) and found themselves in a two-point game in the second half against a team that hadn’t been that close in a while. It had been five games for the Spartans — they trailed the Bulldogs by two early in the second half of a game Fresno State would win 63-52 last month in San Jose.
Up 43-41 with 16:52 to go, the Bulldogs went on a 7-0 run to regain some semblance of control before extending that run to 14-2 and later getting away by as many as 22 points.
Edo had four points in that initial burst and Darnell Taylor hit a 3-pointer. By the end, Fresno State had a season-high five players score 10 or more points.
Guerrero led with 14 points with 11 coming from the free throw line and also had eight rebounds. Edo finished with 12 points, hitting 6 of 10 shots. Marvelle Harris had 11 points with nine rebounds and six assists, Julien Lewis had 11 points and six of the Bulldogs’ 14 steals and Paul Watson scored 10 points..