The game plan was to drive the ball, jump stop and find a big or kick it out to an open shooter at the 3-point line. Finish, that was in there, too.
But after one half, almost none of that was happening for the Fresno State Bulldogs.
But they righted themselves in the second half and stole a 78-77 victory at Utah State on Wednesday when Braxton Huggins knocked down a 3 with 5.5 seconds remaining.
The winning 3-pointer gave the Bulldogs their first lead in a game they trailed by as many as 12 points and put the finishing touch on Huggins’ 33-point night, a career high.
It also gave the Bulldogs their first 3-0 start in conference play since the 2010-11 season.
“We knew we didn’t have a timeout and we knew we needed a 3,” said Huggins, who hit 9 of 12 shots in the second half including 6 of 8 at the 3-point line. “We just tried looking for the best shot and the ball ended up in my hands.
“I had a pretty good night going, a pretty good second half, and the guys gave me trust to shoot the ball. I said, ‘Yeah, I’m going to try to make a play to finish the game.’”
The Bulldogs (12-3, 3-0 in the Mountain West) were down four when Huggins hit a 3 with 1:33 to go and then Fresno State got a stop, the Aggies’ Sam Merrill missing a jumper deep in the shot clock.
Coach Justin Hutson called the last of his timeouts with 58 seconds remaining, down one. He set up two plays to get a quick shot knowing the ball could come back to them for a final possession.
Deshon Taylor ended up driving but was stopped by Quinn Taylor. At the other end, the Bulldogs fouled Neemias Queta going to the rim. Queta, the Utah State center, hit one of two foul shots to push the lead to two.
(Fresno State was called for 25 fouls and Utah State just 14. The Aggies took 24 more foul shots than the Bulldogs, 30 to six.)
With the rebound and 22 seconds left, the Bulldogs ran through a few actions and ended up with Huggins one-on-one with Merrill 22 or 23 feet straight out.
It was no contest.
“That dude Braxton is something else,” said point guard Noah Blackwell, who scored 13 points with six assists and three steals. “He’s a different animal. He’s just built for moments like that and I’m just happy to have him on my team.”
Huggins crossed over, creating space. Then, all net.
“When it got to Braxton, he had a choice to run another action or play one-on-one,” Hutson said. “A guy who had been shooting the ball that well, he’s a really good one-on-one player, he’s the best one-on-one player we have, he just created some space and knocked it down.”
The 3-ball, for the longest time Wednesday night, wasn’t the Bulldogs’ friend.
In the first half, Fresno State drove but too often ran into Queta, who had four of his six blocked shots in the first 20 minutes.
The Bulldogs hit just 33.3 percent of their shots. They were 7 of 21 below the arc, 5 of 15 above it and 12 of 36 overall, which is hard to do.
“They were playing really good defense and we weren’t making the right plays,” Huggins said. “We were driving in there and getting our shot blocked, not jump-stopping. We knew they were a team we had to drive twice or three times to get a good look.”
It was the game plan they had worked on in practice before departing for Logan, Utah.
At halftime, Hutson got that fixed.
The Bulldogs had 10 assists in the second half, after recording just four in the first. They played to 1.333 points per possession in the second half, after 0.938 in the first. They hit 18 of 30 shots (60 percent) including 10 of 16 from the 3-point line (62.5 percent).
“He gave us all a good reminder,” Blackwell said. “When we play like that nobody can guard us, I feel like, and so does the team.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada