Fresno State held a team that was scoring 87.4 points per game, the most in the conference, well under its average in a 69-63 victory on Tuesday at the Save Mart Center.
But the Bulldogs still had to get at least one more point than the Rebels to get away with what was their third consecutive victory, and how they went about that was just as eye-opening.
They went big – early, coach Rodney Terry didn’t have much choice – and at the end it was Terrell Carter II who made all the plays to get them home.
“My big guy,” Terry said, “came to play.”
Carter had played less than 10 minutes in four of the Bulldogs’ first seven Mountain West Conference games and no more than 13 in any of them.
But he was huge for the Bulldogs (15-6, 5-3 in the MW) throughout on Tuesday and in the final 20 seconds the 6-foot-10, 290-pound senior came up with an offensive rebound off a missed jumper by Deshon Taylor, then after Taylor missed the front end of a 1-and-1 spiked a shot by Jordan Johnson at the other end that would have tied the score with seven seconds to go.
He wasn’t done.
The Rebels’ Brandon McCoy grabbed the rebound, but Carter got a piece of his attempt at a follow and was able to secure the rebound.
The Rebels fouled Carter there and he hit two foul shots to put the Bulldogs up four. UNLV turned over the ball trying to get it inbounds and Deshon Taylor, who was back in the locker room for six minutes in the second half due to a bad cramp in his right leg, ended it. He was fouled and hit two free throws with 3.8 seconds to go.
“Coach always told me to stay ready,” Carter said. “Everything is based on matchups and he told me to stay ready, keep working and just stay ready for an opportunity.
“As a senior, it’s hard. But I kept my focus and opportunity presented itself.”
Sam Bittner started at the four position and less than four minutes in was on the bench with two fouls. Nate Grimes came off the bench and was back on it almost as quickly. Terry went to Carter at the 12:53 mark, playing his two bigs together.
It helped that the Rebels’ Shakur Juiston was on the bench with two fouls faster than Bittner – and stayed there for the final 17:25 of the first half.
But that big lineup changed the dynamic for the Bulldogs, who got 20 points, four rebounds and four assists from 6-8 sophomore Williams and 18 points, six rebounds and two assists from Carter.
Together, they hit 18 of 26 shots – Williams was 10 of 14 and Carter 8 of 12.
“We knew we were going to need our size,” Terry said. “Sam plays hard and competes, but he’s going to give way to some of that size at that four spot.
“We knew that coming in. We knew a lot of time we were going to have Bryson with Terrell, Bryson with Nate and if we needed to dig deep into the bench (redshirt freshman Lazaro Rojas) had to be ready.”
When Carter hit the floor the Bulldogs were just 5 of 13 shooting the basketball, 38.5 percent. But they got the ball inside to Carter, who had six of their final 10 makes in the half. Williams had three others, extending his range and knocking down mid-range jump shots. Grimes had the Bulldogs’ other basket.
With the Rebels (14-6, 3-4) limiting the Bulldogs’ guards playing big paid big, even against McCoy and Juiston, who are two of the top bigs in the conference.
McCoy, a 7-foot freshman, went into the game ranked fifth in the conference in scoring (17.6 points per game) and second in rebounding (9.7 per game) and the 6-7 Juiston was 11th (14.8) and first (10.0).
But the Bulldogs challenged at every opportunity, getting into the paint. The four assists by Williams are a career-high, and all of them went to Carter.
“With Terrell, he’s a big matchup problem for a lot of teams and I know he’s a real good finisher and I believe in him,” Williams said. “I know he’s going to catch that pass. I know if I throw it in, he’s going to take care of it.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
UTAH STATE AT FRESNO STATE
- Saturday: 4 p.m. at Save Mart Center
- Webcast/radio: Mountain West Network/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Records: Bulldogs 15-6, 5-3 Mountain West; Aggies 10-11, 3-5
- Of note: The Aggies play Air Force on Wednesday, looking to snap a four-game losing streak. Utah State started Mountain West play 3-1 including an 81-79 overtime victory over Fresno State on Jan. 3 at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum. The Bulldogs were up by 10 points with 4:12 remaining in that game, but the Aggies rallied behind Koby McEwan. The Utah State guard scored a game-high 28 points and averaged 22.0 in the first four conference games, but has been held to just 12.3 in that four-game losing streak. Utah State is 1-7 on the road this season, 1-3 away from home in conference play. The defense has been suspect in the four-game losing streak – the Aggies have allowed 80-plus points in losses to Colorado State, at Nevada and to Wyoming. Nevada and Wyoming can score, but Colorado State started the week ranked ninth in the Mountain West in scoring and last in field goal percentage and 3-point field goal percentage.