Fresno State had its winning streak bloodied and broken up on Saturday by Wyoming, falling into a 17-point hole that proved too deep in a 78-68 loss at the Save Mart Center. But the Bulldogs could have bigger problems, losing point guard Jaron Hopkins with a right foot injury a little past midway in the first half.
The extent of Hopkins’ injury was not immediately known – he was to have X-rays and perhaps a MRI on Saturday night.
But the Bulldogs have to go to Air Force on Monday to makeup a Jan. 20 game that was postponed due to the shutdown of the federal government with their hold on solo third in the Mountain West now tenuous.
New Mexico, one-half game back, plays UNLV on Sunday.
Fresno State is 20-9 and 10-6 in conference play. New Mexico is 14-14 and 9-6, with San Diego State on a four-game winning streak to get to 9-7 in the Mountain West along with Wyoming.
There is cause and effect there for the Bulldogs with Hopkins a large piece in that five-game winning streak, averaging 17.6 points, 6.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.0 blocked shots. He also had turned it over just 2.2 times while playing 33.0 minutes per game, and at 6-foot-6 tough to deal with defending on the perimeter.
“You miss him defensively because of his size and what he’s able to do from that point of view,” coach Rodney Terry said.
“He’s our tempo-setter on offense. It’s unfortunate that he wasn’t able to compete in a game that I think he would have had a chance to be successful in.”
Hopkins left with 7:24 remaining in the first half with the Bulldogs up by one at that point and the Cowboys just 8 of 24 (33.3 percent) and Justin James, a target for the Bulldogs’ point guard at the defensive end, was 1 of 5.
The Cowboys hit 12 of their final 17 shots in the half including a banked 3-pointer from Hayden Dalton at the buzzer, taking at 46-29 lead.
James finished the half 5 of 9 in scoring 12 points, and ended up hitting 8 of 9 shots after Hopkins left the game in scoring a game-high 26.
Fresno State also struggled at the offensive end, unable to work inside the Cowboys’ zone. The Bulldogs were 9 of 20 when Hopkins went down, 3 of 10 the rest of the half. The Bulldogs also had nine turnovers, after turning it over just nine, nine, nine and 10 times over their past four games.
“Jaron, that’s our starting point guard, one of our leaders,” guard Ray Bowles Jr. said. “Seeing him go down is tough. We need him. Now other guys are going to have to step up, depending on what his situation is. Other than that, it sucks to see him go down like that.”
The Bulldogs did make a run back, down 17 at the half. They closed to within six with still 9:42 to go, five with 8:10 remaining and again with 5:34 to play.
There, though, they stalled.
Fresno State got a steal by Deshon Taylor after closing to 63-58 on a short jumper by Bryson Williams, who had 16 points in the game. But Jahmel Taylor missed a shot from the 3-point line. The Cowboys missed at their end and Deshon Taylor, who also was hobbled at points in the game, missed a three. The Bulldogs then gave James too much space in the left corner and the Cowboys’ guard nailed a three to push the lead back to eight.
“Wyoming is a real good team,” Williams said. “They do a lot of things well. They’re real good on offense. We just didn’t come out with the urgency we needed in the first half. We just laid a goose egg. We just didn’t execute in the first half. They did a good job.”
Fresno State missed five shots in a row inside of five minutes.
“We had a couple of great looks, two possessions in a row,” Terry said. “We got great looks throughout most of the game. They made their shots, we didn’t make our shots.
“We give them a lot of credit. I don’t like to be one to make excuses: ‘We didn’t make shots.’ We’ve been on the flipside of that quite a bit where everybody wants to make excuses: ‘We lost the game because we didn’t shoot the ball well.’ No, you lost the game in other areas. They put their will on us tonight and we didn’t respond very well, especially to start the game and this time of year you can’t give 20 minutes away.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE AT AIR FORCE
- Monday: 6 p.m. at Clune Arena, Colorado Springs, Colo.
- TV/radio: AT&TSportsNet/KFIG (AM ESPN 940)
- Records: Bulldogs 20-9, 10-6 Mountain West; Falcons 11-16, 5-10
- Of note: The Falcons snapped a three-game losing streak on Saturday with a 75-65 victory over Utah State. Air Force has struggled defensively in conference play, ranking 10th in the league in allowing opponents to hit 47.5 percent of their shots, but Utah State managed to hit only 22 of 57 (38.6 percent) and 10 of 27 at the 3-point line (37.0 percent). The Falcons were led by forward Lavelle Scottie, who hit 6 of 10 shots in scoring 18 points. Fresno State beat Air Force 71-59 on Dec. 30, 2017 and is playing at Air Force on Monday after its scheduled Jan. 20 game at Clune Arena was postponed due to the shutdown of the federal government. The Bulldogs hit 53.2 percent of their shots in that game and were led by Deshon Taylor (18 points) and Ray Bowles Jr. (16 points).