It is not as if the Fresno State Bulldogs had nothing at stake Saturday at Boise State.
There was a chance to improve on a No. 6 seed at the Mountain West men’s basketball tournament, to win an 11th conference game for the first time in more than a decade, and to ruin the evening for a sellout crowd with the Broncos playing for the league championship.
But the Bulldogs, one through 11, brought little to nothing with them, got frazzled at the start and as a result got smacked around in a little-effort 71-52 loss at Taco Bell Arena.
The game was so far gone midway through the second half that coach Rodney Terry sat leader and leading scorer Marvelle Harris for the final 7:58. Terry had pulled Harris at the 15:52 mark when the Broncos were pulling away and didn’t send him back in until there was 8:42 to go.
“I needed to sit him down for a little bit to get his composure, to stay into the game the way we needed to,” Terry said.
But when a 19-point deficit grew to 22 in the next 44 seconds, he pulled Harris out for good. The junior guard ended up playing seven minutes in the second half, 27 in the game, and with 10 points still ended up the Bulldogs’ second-leading scorer behind Cezar Guerrero with 11.
Down 59-38 at that point and foundering, Terry didn’t want to take any chances.
“This game, when you really got down to it at the end of the day, we’re going to need that guy in Vegas,” he said. “We’re not going to quit, but it’s an opportunity for other guys. Marvelle has logged the most minutes in this league. We don’t need him turning an ankle, not giving us the best opportunity to go do what we need to do in a game that’s already hard for us make a climb back.”
Boise State ended up with a share of its first Mountain West championship and the No. 1 seed at the conference tournament — its first since 1999 when it went into the Big West Tournament as the top seed. The Bulldogs will be the No. 6 seed and on Thursday will play No. 3 Colorado State, which is the only team that beat Fresno State twice during conference play.
Fresno State (15-16, 10-8 MW) got off to a rough start at the offensive end, hitting only 8 of its first 25 shots including several right at the rim, and had seven turnovers in the first half . The Broncos built a 28-19 lead through the Bulldogs miscues — Boise State, despite some wide open looks, hit only 10 of its 26 shots including 4 of 17 on 3-pointers (23.5%).
But a 16-2 to start the second half sealed what was a missed opportunity for Fresno State to improve its seeding, had the Bulldogs showed better. The two teams ahead of Fresno State in the conference standings both lost — Wyoming at New Mexico and Utah State to Colorado State.
“We played a team tonight that understood what they were playing for,” Terry said. “We understood what we were playing for, and I think early in the game we let our offense affect our defense. We had some easy shots at the rim point blank that could have made a huge difference in where we were in this game, but you have to keep playing. You have to keep playing and you can learn a lot from a team that got off to not a great start in this league (Boise State was 0-3 but finished with a 14-4 record) and finished and found themselves and had a good conference slate.
“I don’t think it was matter of not wanting to. I thought we started the game missing shots — and we were right at the rim. We got shots right at the basket where we wanted to get shots and we didn’t make those. We got some advantage basketball with a few stops and we turned the ball over and, really, we had done a great job in conference play of not turning the ball over. We have a couple of broken plays that we didn’t convert. That changed the game.”
• The Bulldogs’ 52 points tie for their second-fewest output this season.
• The contest was Harris’ 100th game as a Fresno State player and the 26th in a row in which he scored in double digits.
• Bulldogs guard Julien Lewis scored five points in 16 minutes before fouling out.
• James Webb III had 18 points and 10 rebounds to lead Boise State.