Put a line through that first half at Utah State. Fresno State, in only its second game with Deshon Taylor, Braxton Huggins and Noah Blackwell together in the starting lineup, wasn’t quite right. It didn’t play to game plan, didn’t execute.
It bogged itself down, mostly.
But coming back from nine down with a little more than eight minutes to play to beat the Aggies, the Bulldogs fit those pieces together with propitious results making the extra pass and finding a balance in hunting offense while also feeding open shooters.
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Huggins was out front, scoring 25 of his career-high 33 points in the second half.
But it also was Taylor and Blackwell, two point guards, all of them along with Sam Bittner and Nate Grimes at the four and the five giving the Bulldogs an intriguing mix headed into their biggest men’s basketball game in years.
Fresno State, 12-3, 3-0 in the Mountain West and at the top of the conference, plays No. 10 Nevada on Saturday at the Save Mart Center, the first top-10 team to come to town since 1996 when the Bulldogs took down No. 8 Utah at Selland Arena.
“It has taken some time,” coach Justin Hutson said. “You want everybody out there with your guards to be threats and you want them to learn how to play together and that takes time. I thought they did a really good job in that second half.
“We had some times earlier in the season when they were together when we looked good and we had some times we didn’t look so good. You want them to be aggressive, but you also want them to share the ball.”
The Bulldogs have started to do that, at a level they haven’t hit in some time. “That’s what we’re supposed to look like,” Taylor said.
Blackwell has 43 assists in his past seven games, the most since Steven Shepp had 46 in seven during the 2011-12 season.
Taylor has 38, his assists sandwiched around a four-game absence due to a dislocated left elbow, the fifth most over a seven-game stretch.
Both, also, have scored, Blackwell averaging 12.6 points and Taylor 17.7
The Top Five runs …
- Steven Shepp (2011-12) 46, averaged 5.0 points, 6.6 assists
- Noah Blackwell (2018-19) 43, 12.6, 6.1
- Marvelle Harris (2015-16) 42, 25.9, 6.0
- Cezar Guerrero (2013-14) 40, 14.5, 5.7
- Deshon Taylor (2018-19) 38, 17.7, 5.4
In the second half of that 78-77 victory at Utah State, the Bulldogs had 10 assists on 18 made baskets, hit 60 percent of their shots (18 of 30) including 62.5 percent from the 3-point line (10 of 16) and scored at 1.333 points per possession.
“Our emphasis was to make the extra pass, get multiple penetrations, don’t take hard shots, keep attacking,” Hutson said.
“I’m not telling you not to shoot it when you watch. I’m not telling you not to shoot it when you’re open. We have to shoot the ball when we’re open. But we also have to draw and drive for others, spread them out. Our strength is in numbers, not just one guy attacking in there and shooting it.”
In the one game Nevada lost this season, an 85-58 misery last Saturday at New Mexico, the Lobos threw them a changeup, put a bigger lineup on the floor and went zone. The Wolf Pack struggled mightily against it. They hit a season-worst 33.3 percent of their shots including 4 of 22 from the 3-point line.
But New Mexico also was fairly sharp at the offensive end, won big on the boards and had a 12-6 edge on the offensive glass. Anthony Mathis had 27 points and five assists, Vance Jackson had 18 points and seven assists.
The Bulldogs are limited putting a bigger lineup on the floor, but they present some challenges to the Wolf Pack at the offensive end.
“Previous teams, when we had me and J.T. (Jahmel Taylor) or me and Jaron (Hopkins), they could help off Jaron, they could sit on J.T. in the corner and pack the paint or double-team me,” said Taylor, a returning first-team all-conference selection. “But now, with three guards that can all drive, all shoot, can do multidimensional things, teams can’t really help or they’ll pay for it.
“On any given night any one of our guards can go for 30 and it could be another guard going for 20 and we could have Nate down there getting 10-plus rebounds and 15, 16 points. You’d be like, ‘Who should we stop? Who should we double team?’ You can’t really have any double teams going anywhere.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada