Fresno State Basketball

Bulldogs take down Hawaii, finish Wooden Legacy with two wins in three games

Fresno State coach Justin Hutson, who led the Bulldogs to a 23-9 record and third place finish in the Mountain West Conference, has won the Joe B. Hall National coach of the year award presented annually to the top first-year coach in Division I basketball.
Fresno State coach Justin Hutson, who led the Bulldogs to a 23-9 record and third place finish in the Mountain West Conference, has won the Joe B. Hall National coach of the year award presented annually to the top first-year coach in Division I basketball. ASSOCIATED PRESS

Clearly, the 3-point shot is going to be a major part of the Fresno State Bulldogs’ arsenal this season, but the they only needed one in a 12-point run in the second half that propelled them to a 79-64 victory over Hawaii on Sunday in the Wooden Legacy.

With an 11-point halftime lead cut to just four, Braxton Huggins knocked down a shot from the 3-point line and the Bulldogs (3-2) followed that with four foul shots from forward Nate Grimes, a 3-point play on a drive to the basket by Deshon Taylor and a jumper by Huggins.. Hawaii had two turnovers and missed four consecutive shots during the Bulldogs’ run.

“I feel like this is a great confidence booster for us,” Taylor said, after the Bulldogs won their second of three games at the Wooden Legacy, played at Titan Gym on the Cal State Fullerton campus.

“I feel like this is a while new team, basically. A lot of new guys, a brand-new system and coaching staff. Getting a win, I feel like the team’s confidence is real high right now.”

Fresno State, which will play its next seven games at the Save Mart Center starting Wednesday night against Pacific, opened the tournament with a 78-59 victory over Northwestern then lost 78-76 to Miami on a last-second dunk off an offensive rebound.

The 3-point shot played large in all three games, the Bulldogs on Sunday hitting 11 of 20 (55.0 percent) with Huggins and Sam Bittner hitting three and Taylor two, as part of his game-high 20 points.

In the opening victory over Northwestern, they hit 11 of 23 shots at the 3-point line, 47.8 percent. In the loss to Miami, they hit 9 of 23, 39.1 percent.

Last season, Fresno State hit 10 or more 3s six times in 32 games. This season, they have done it three times in their first five games.

The Bulldogs are getting clean looks, and they are looking to get them early in possessions under coach Justin Hutson playing off a defense that has picked up since a loss at TCU in which the Horned Frogs erased a halftime deficit by hitting 20 of 30 shots in the second half.

Against the Rainbow Warriors (4-3), the Bulldogs forced 11 turnovers, nine in the first half when they broke to a 39-28 lead.

“We like to pick up early and get aggressive,” Hutson said. “We can always back off if we feel like it hurts us. It gets us in the mode of playing hard and gets us to the tempo that we want.”

Taylor led four Bulldogs scoring in double digits with his 20 points, along with five assists and two rebounds. Huggins added 13 points with three rebounds and two assists, guard New Williams scored 12 points and Bittner had 11.

Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
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