Fresno State did what it had to do on Saturday against Utah State guards Sam Merrill and Koby McEwen. The going for the Aggies’ top two scorers was difficult, start to finish.
But it was the other guys and forward Daron Henson in particular that put the Bulldogs in a hole and ultimately proved to be too much in a 65-62 loss at the Save Mart Center, snapping their three-game winning streak.
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Henson, who had hit only 32.5 percent of his shots this season and was averaging 4.1 points per game, hit 6 of 7 shots, all of them at the 3-point line including the dagger.
That was a three from about 28 feet straight out with 0.2 seconds remaining, after the Bulldogs went from having the ball with 14 seconds to go and the score tied to not having the ball with 14 seconds to go and needing a stop.
The Bulldogs’ Bryson Williams pulled a rebound off a miss by McEwen, but while Fresno State coach Rodney Terry was calling for a timeout the officials ruled the ball was tied up by Quinn Taylor and the possession arrow was pointed to Utah State.
“We thought we had the ball, yeah,” Terry said. “The kid jumped in and gets a jump ball and at that juncture of the game, we did a nice job of defending and felt like we finished the possession, but obviously that’s a tough deal.
“You give the team the ball back with 14 seconds underneath their basket, we’ll take our chances with that. But that’s a big play, no question.”
The Aggies (12-11, 5-5 in the MW) put the ball in play from the baseline – it went from Dwayne Brown Jr. to McEwen, 40 feet from the basket.
“We were going to switch any kind of ball screen and action that they had at that particular time and we needed to do it with urgency in the process,” Terry said.
“We knew McEwen was going to be a guy that had the ball in his hands and obviously Henson had shot the ball really well the entire game.”
With time running out, Henson got the ball and fired.
It was on line, and in.
“They put him in the action and we switched off and give him credit, we tried to switch out there like we did and he made a big shot,” Terry said.
It was a crusher for the Bulldogs, who had held McEwen to nine points and Merrill to 11, the two Utah State guards a combined 6 of 24 and 3 of 11 from the 3-point line.
But Henson, a redshirt freshman, was an out-sized presence from the start.
In the first half Utah State had hit 14 of its 25 shots and was 9 of 13 at the 3-point line – the Bulldogs past four opponents were 3 of 13, 3 of 9, 8 of 25 and 3 of 12 there.
McEwen and Merrill both had a three, and only one. Both were 1 of 4 in the half, scoring four and three points. But Henson and Dwayne Brown Jr. filled it up, and it didn’t matter much how well the Bulldogs contested a shot.
Henson, who did not play Jan. 3 when the Aggies beat Fresno State 81-79 in overtime and had hit only 37.3 percent of his 3-point shots this season, was 4 of 5 for 12 points. Brown, who was 4 of 10 and 1 of 3 in scoring 11 points in that first meeting, was 4 of 6 and 1 of 1 for 10 points.
“We did a nice job on (McEwen and Merrill), it was the other guys, the guys that could come in off the bench and hurt us,” Terry said. “Last game it was (Alex) Dargenton that hurt us with 13 and seven, and this game now it’s Henson that comes out and play well and has 18 and Brown had some damage done in the first half.
“I’m not saying those guys aren’t good players, but you can’t let those guys come in and be major factors in the game.”
Fresno State (15-7, 5-4 in the MW), down 39-31 at the half, got back into it. The Bulldogs, down for all but 17 seconds to the 7:18 mark in the second half, went up 54-53 there on a pair of foul shots by point guard Jaron Hopkins.
The Bulldogs and Aggies were never separated by more than none possession the rest of the way, and if there was a lead, Utah State had it. The Aggies were up by three at 62-59 when Ray Bowles Jr. hit a three to tie the score with 46 seconds to go off an assist by Hopkins.
But McEwen pressed his way toward the basket at the other end, missed. Then came the tie up and for Henson, the game-winner.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE AT NEVADA
- Wednesday: 8 p.m. at Lawlor Events Center
- Webcast/radio: CBSSports Network/KFIG (AM 940)
- Records: Bulldogs 15-7, 5-4 Mountain West; Wollf Pack 18-4, 7-1
- Of note: The Wolf Pack has not played since a 104-103 overtime loss at Wyoming on Wednesday when it choked away an undefeated start to Mountain West Conference play. Nevada, the third-best free throw shooting team in the league, hit only 7 of 15 foul shots in the final five minutes of regulation and the overtime. The Wolf Pack had made their first 23 free throws. The loss snapped a streak of 13 consecutive Mountain West wins and seven consecutive conference road wins – the Wolf Pack were one win away from tying both marks. Nevada won the first match up with Fresno State, 80-65 at the Save Mart Center on Dec. 27, 2017. Kendall Stephens led the Wolf Pack in that game with 19 points, hitting 6 of 10 shots including 5 of 7 at the 3-point line. Caleb Martin had a double-double for the Wolf Pack with 18 and 10.