Fresno State and Air Force both were in tough spots on Monday, making up a basketball game scheduled for January and postponed due to the federal government shutdown.
By degree the Bulldogs had it much worse, playing less than 48 hours after they walked off the floor Saturday night at the Save Mart Center, playing Monday at altitude and – the biggie – without point guard Jaron Hopkins, who injured his right foot in the loss to Wyoming and is out for the season.
But Fresno State after a dreadful first half adjusting without Hopkins put enough pieces together to get away with 54-48 victory at Clune Arena in Colorado Springs, Colo., that secured a first-round bye next month at the Mountain West Conference Tournament.
“It will be an adjustment,” coach Rodney Terry said. “We’ll miss Jaron. We’ll miss Jaron in a number of different areas, as a defender, as a guy who is the initiator of our offense, as a guy who can break down some guys.
“But we have enough guys in there that want to get it done at a high level and it’s next man up. We’ll continue get better as we continue to play without Jaron. Obviously, we’d love to have him, but we’re going to continue to play with what we’ve got and I know he is going to stay connected to those guys, as well. That’s a big deal.”
With Hopkins down – he was injured in the first half Saturday when Wyoming snapped the Bulldogs’ five-game winning streak – Fresno State started Jahmel Taylor at the point and had Johnny McWilliams come off the bench and play 14 minutes.
It was as much about converting open looks, though.
Fresno State (21-9, 11-6 and third in the MW) hit just 7 of 25 shots in the first 20 minutes, 28 percent, and had seven turnovers.
Jahmel Taylor didn’t score in that first half. He finished with two points, those coming with 1:02 to go, but had six rebounds, three assists and one steal.
Deshon Taylor, the Bulldogs’ leading scorer, didn’t score in the first half, either. He finished with seven points, three rebounds, four assists and one steal.
The Bulldogs in the game were 19 of 56, 33.9 percent.
“I think we got a lot of great looks, we just couldn’t hit our shots,” said guard Ray Bowles Jr., who was 4 of 13 and 0 of 4 at the 3-point line, but in scoring 11 points was second among the Bulldogs behind only Bryson Williams, with 15.
“We got some good looks inside, couldn’t finish inside. If we make our shots, it’s a different game. But, either way, we came out with the win and everybody is happy about that. At this point, it doesn’t matter how it gets done, just as long as it gets done.”
McWilliams hit 2 of 4 shots in scoring four points and had two rebounds. It was his longest stint since the Dec. 27 Mountain West opener against Nevada when he played 19 minutes; he had played a total of 13 minutes over his past six games and the Bulldogs’ past 12 games.
“He stayed prepared the whole time,” Terry said. “He was ready. He did a good job running their offense (in practice) so he had a good feel for the Princeton offense and when it came time for him to defend I thought he did a good job.”
The Falcons, who had beaten Utah State in a Saturday afternoon game at home and had just a little more rest and prep time, struggled against that defense.
Air Force (11-17, 5-11) hit just 7 of 23 shots in the first half and 7 of 26 in the second, finishing 14 of 49, 28.6 percent. The Falcons, with the Bulldogs on top of their actions, also had 18 turnovers, leading to 15 points.
“They’re a very difficult team to defend and I thought our guys were spot-on,” Terry said. “They did a really good job to hold a team that always gives us a tough time here to 28 percent, that’s big-time.
“We slowed the game down. We didn’t try to get into it where we were going to get into a track meet over here because of the quick turnaround. We really tried to play high-percentage basketball. We put the ball in the post a lot and gave our guys a chance to get some things done.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE AT NEW MEXICO
- Saturday: 6 p.m. at Dreamstyle Arena/The Pit, Albuquerque.
- TV/radio: ESPN3/KFIG (AM ESPN 940)
- Records: Bulldogs 21-9, 11-6 Mountain West; Lobos 15-14, 10-6
- Of note: The Lobos moved into a tie for third in the Mountain West with the Bulldogs by edging UNLV on Sunday, 91-90. The Rebels had a wide-open look at a 3-point shot to win that game and whiffed on a tip-in to win. New Mexico hit 50 percent of its shots in that game from the floor and the 3-point line going 28 of 56 and 11 of 22 and is now third in the conference in scoring offense at 81.0 points per game. The Bulldogs won the first meeting 89-80 on Jan. 13 at the Save Mart Center. Deshon Taylor led the Bulldogs with 22 points, going 9 of 12 from the foul line. But the Lobos didn’t have an answer for Bryson Williams inside. The Roosevelt High grad hit 7 of 9 shots in scoring 15 points and had three assists. Fresno State hit 32 of 49 shots in the victory, 65.3 percent.