Fresno State lost in overtime at New Mexico 95-86 and will go into the Mountain West Tournament as a No. 4 seed with a quarterfinal matchup against No. 5 San Diego State, the hottest team in the conference with six wins in a row, and with a potential semifinal draw against No. 1 Nevada if the Bulldogs can get that far.
But even as a No. 3, playing the winner of a No. 6-No. 11 matchup between Wyoming and San Jose State, the Bulldogs would be in need of answers at the defensive end.
Since point guard Jaron Hopkins went down and out for the season in the first half of a loss to Wyoming, the Bulldogs in the trickle down from that right foot injury have been left with some tough matchups playing their man-to-man and lost some of the edge that fueled a five-game winning streak.
That would be to defend, and defend without fouling.
When Fresno State won five games in a row, its opponents scored just 20.4 percent of their points at the foul line.
- Wyoming: 62 points, 14 of 17 at the line.
- San Diego State: 61 points, 7 of 13 at the line.
- San Jose State: 57 points, 6 of 13 at the line.
- Colorado State: 65 points, 8 of 16 at the line.
- UNLV: 64 points, 28 of 35 at the line.
But in the Bulldogs’ past five halves of basketball, opponents have scored 33.7 percent of their points on free throws.
- Wyoming: 32 points, 16 of 22 at the line.
- Air Force: 19 points, 2 of 3 at the line.
- Air Force: 29 points, 14 of 19 at the line.
- New Mexico: 39 points, 8 of 8 at the line.
- New Mexico: 56 points, 19 of 23 at the line (includes overtime).
Wyoming in the second half of its 78-68 victory at the Save Mart Center hit 41.2 percent of its shots (7 of 17) but also got to the line, going 16 of 22 there in the final 20 minutes.
In the Bulldogs’ winning run, opponents got to the free throw line just 17, 13, 13, 16 and then 35 times in those games, that last one a lot of UNLV guard Jordan Johnson, who beat them off the dribble and got to the foul line 12 times.
Air Force shot the ball terribly when the Bulldogs won there 54-48, but it got to the foul line 22 times, which is a lot for the Falcons. In their last 10 conference games, they took 17 or fewer free throws six times. They got nine foul shots at San Diego State, eight at Boise State, five at Wyoming and just two in a second game against the Aztecs.
In the loss at New Mexico, the Lobos were 29 of 54 (53.7 percent) and 27 of 31 at the free throw line – not a good combination for the Bulldogs.
Ray Bowles Jr., who has taken on the opponent’s best perimeter scorer much of conference play, has played in foul trouble and fouled out against Wyoming and New Mexico. That also has impacted the Bulldogs’ defense.
Jahmel Taylor, in his second start at the point, got off to a rough start against the Lobos. When he went to the bench after picking up a fourth foul with 15:58 to go, he was 2 of 6 and 1 of 3 at the 3-point line, had seven points, one assist and one turnover.
The Bulldogs were down 10 points, 12 after Anthony Mathis hit the two foul shots.
So in his first three halves plus 4:02 at the point, Taylor was 3 of 14 and 1 of 7 at the 3-point line, had four assists and five turnovers, and Fresno State had scored at .657 and .861 in scoring 54 points in a win at Air Force and 1.063 points per possession.
When Taylor reentered the game with 6:09 to go, he promptly had another turnover.
But the senior then hit a pair of free throws and knocked down five shots in a row including four from the 3-point line as the Bulldogs rallied into overtime, playing some on and some off the ball. He had five of the Bulldogs’ points in a 7-0 run down the final 56 seconds of regulation, tying the score at 81.
“I think between the past two games it set our guys up well heading into the tournament,” coach Rodney Terry said. “J.T. has had a chance to play the point. Deshon (Taylor) had to play some point for us. I thought those guys did a good job for us. They put us in a position to win the game (at New Mexico).”
The Bulldogs and Lobos were tied for third in the Mountain West, the winner on Saturday taking the No. 3 seed for the conference tournament.
The injury to Hopkins aside, Fresno State caught New Mexico at the wrong time.
The Lobos had averaged 99.0 points through a four-game winning streak and after a 95-86 victory over the Bulldogs are now at 98.2 in the highest-scoring five-game run by any team in conference play this season.
Nevada, the highest scoring team in the Mountain West at 83.5 points per game and 84.6 per game in conference play, had a five-game run where it scored 88.6 points per game.
MOUNTAIN WEST CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT
No. 4 Fresno State vs. No. 5 San Diego State
- Thursday: 2:30 p.m., Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas
- TV/Radio: CBSSports Network/KFIG (AM ESPN 940)
- Records: Fresno State 21-10, 11-7 in MW, Aztecs 19-10, 11-7
- Of note: The Bulldogs beat San Diego State in both regular-season meetings, winning 77-73 at Viejas Arena on Jan. 17 and 79-61 at the Save Mart Center on Feb. 6. The Aztecs, though, enter the Mountain West Tournament off six consecutive victories, the longest active winning streak in the conference. That run includes a 94-56 victory over UNLV, the 38-point margin the largest in a Mountain West game this season. San Diego State also has a 36-point win over San Jose State and a 31-point win over San Jose State and three of the top five biggest blowout wins in conference play. When Fresno State beat San Diego State at the Save Mart Center it was without senior Trey Kell, who has had some big games against the Bulldogs. Kell, who missed that game with an ankle injury, has averaged 17.6 points over his past five regular-season games against Fresno State with 4.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists. In his career, he has averaged 10.3 points per game. In its six-game winning streak, San Diego State has hit 47.9 percent of its shots in averaging 78.3 points while limiting its opponents to a 41.4 field goal percentage and 64.3 points per game.