Fresno State coach Justin Hutson has new players and old players in new roles, but one thing hasn’t changed with the first-year coach.
In tight and at the end of games, Deshon Taylor is going to have the basketball in his hands – as was the case Wednesday as the senior got the Bulldogs home safely in an 81-78 overtime victory over Pacific at the Save Mart Center.
The Bulldogs appeared intent on shooting their way out of the game in the second half, going through a stretch where they were 0 of 9 and 1 of 11, while the Tigers were creeping closer and closer behind freshman guard Ajare Sanni and his 32 points.
But Taylor in the final three and a half minutes of regulation took a stranglehold on the game, hitting a pair of free throws after he was fouled on a drive, which were followed by a drive and score, another drive and score and a drive and 3-point play.
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That last basket and foul shot came out of a timeout with 11 seconds to go after Pacific had taken its first and only lead in the game, and it put the Bulldogs up by two.
“A lot of guys after we got in the huddle just told me to take over,” said Taylor, a first-team all-Mountain West Conference selection last season. “I knew I had their confidence so I got in the game and made the right play.”
His mindset going down the stretch?
“I didn’t want to lose. I didn’t want to lose at home at all, especially to a team that’s kind of like our rival, another Valley team. I didn’t want to lose the game.”
The Tigers ended up tying the score at 62 on a shot by Brandon McGhee from behind the backboard to send the game into overtime.
But once there, Taylor got Fresno State (4-2) off to a good start.
He hit forward Nate Grimes on the block for a layup. After a miss by the Tigers, Taylor fired a pass through the Tigers to forward Sam Bittner in the right corner for a wide-open 3-point basket that went down. Taylor then got the ball again to Grimes for another layup.
The Bulldogs were 5 of 5 in the overtime, 3 of 3 at the 3-point line.
Taylor finished with 22 points, seven assists, three steals and one blocked shot. In 44 minutes, he had just one turnover.
“Strange game,” Hutson said. “Throw the ball over the backboard, we tip it in, big lead early. It doesn’t seem like we’re going to miss a shot and then we get to the second half and couldn’t make a shot. We couldn’t get good shots, even more importantly.
“We didn’t kick it out as much as we did in the first half. That ball was moving in the first half. It got a little sticky in the second half. I’m happy to come out with a win, learning from a win instead of learning from a loss.”
The Bulldogs still are putting those pieces together. But against the Tigers (5-4), Fresno State got some encouraging signs moving forward entering a stretch when their next six games are at the Save Mart Center.
Bittner again was more aggressive at looking for a shot at the offensive end, scoring a career-high 16 points while impacting the game at both ends of the floor. He added five rebounds, four assists and two steals.
With Grimes in foul trouble much of the game, Lazaro Rojas also gave the Bulldogs 19 quality minutes with nine points, nine rebounds, two blocks and one assist.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada