Fresno State Basketball

A peek inside key play as Fresno State comes from 20 down to beat San Diego State

Bulldogs erase 20-point deficit, beat San Diego State

The Fresno State Bulldogs, playing without injured point guard Noah Blackwell, were down by 20 points three times in the first half and still came back to beat San Diego State 66-62 Tuesday Jan. 22, 2019 at the Save Mart Center.
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The Fresno State Bulldogs, playing without injured point guard Noah Blackwell, were down by 20 points three times in the first half and still came back to beat San Diego State 66-62 Tuesday Jan. 22, 2019 at the Save Mart Center.

Aguir Agau is a freshman whose value on the floor extends miles past the 4.4 shots a game he was averaging going into the Fresno State Bulldogs’ 66-62 victory over San Diego State.

There has not been a ton of court time for Agau – playing behind senior Sam Bittner, he logged just eight, five, seven and four minutes in the Bulldogs’ first four Mountain West games. Sometimes, he will get yanked quickly. But there have been flashes in there, too, stepping up to make a shot, to grab a rebound.

The brightest to this point came in the Bulldogs’ victory Tuesday night over the Aztecs before a good crowd at the Save Mart Center, an offensive rebound that led to a basket by Nate Grimes just inside of nine minutes to play and afterward had Bittner smiling.

“It was a great IQ play,” Bittner said.

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Here’s the situation:

The Bulldogs, down 20 points on three occasions in the first half, are trailing 51-50 after a Bittner three and then a defensive rebound. They have a chance to lead for the first time since the third minute of the game, but the possession is getting away and Braxton Huggins lets fly a three as the shot clock is winding down.

It’s off, doesn’t get rim. The shot clock still is running, but seconds away from what could be a costly turnover, Agau rebounds the basketball and immediately puts it up and off the rim, not taking time and trying to gather and make a shot, but just to get a reset.

“I knew it was a perfect miss,” Agau said. “I crashed the boards, there were a few seconds left. I just knew I had to get it up and it just happens that I was in the perfect place and so was Nate. I hit it right off the rim, Nate got it and put it in.”

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Fresno State’s Nate Grimes dunks against San Diego State in their game at the Save Mart Center on Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019. CRAIG KOHLRUSS ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

The basket by Nate Grimes put Fresno State ahead, improbably, given where they were midway through the first half, and while the Aztecs tied the score three times the Bulldogs never trailed the rest of the way to a fifth win in six conference games.

It was one of the best plays in a second half of fairly big plays for the Bulldogs, by a freshman who went in averaging 3.1 points and 2.4 rebounds in 10.1 minutes per game.

It’s a play that the indispensable Bittner might have made at another time, or place. One, also, that he, could appreciate.

“Aguir is special,” Bittner said. “You already see how athletic and how long and how versatile he can be on the perimeter and inside, and for him to come in and make a play like that, that’s pretty special.”

Missing McDaniels

Jalen McDaniels, San Diego State’s 6-foot-10 forward, was leading the Aztecs in scoring at 15.9 points per game. He led the team in shot attempts and makes. At .484, had a higher field goal percentage than any Aztec who had started more than five games.

He was a tough matchup for the Bulldogs.

He scored eight of their first 13 points in the second half Tuesday night.

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Fresno State’s Braxton Huggins, left, gets some encouragement from teammate Deshon Taylor while the Bulldogs mounted a comeback against San Diego State at the Save Mart Center on Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019. CRAIG KOHLRUSS ckohlruss@fresnobee.com


He also got just one shot the final 9:39, a layup with 13 seconds to go.

There were some foul shots in there – he made 3 of 4. But San Diego State didn’t make much use of its leading scorer as the Bulldogs rallied.

Between those second-half shots by McDaniels, San Diego State was 1 of 7.

Guard Devin Watson, the Aztecs’ second-leading scorer, took and missed four of them. Mike Mitchell, third on the team in scoring, took and missed a fifth. Nolan Narain, averaging just 11.5 minutes and 3.4 points, took the other two, going 1 of 2.

Layups

In the two games since a loss to Nevada when out-rebounded 42-34 including 17 offensive rebounds that led to 27 second-chance points, the Bulldogs have out-rebounded Boise State 33-25 and San Diego State 41-28. Fresno State had 10 offensive rebounds against the Broncos and 14 against the Aztecs.

The Bulldogs’ Johnny McWilliams was 0 of 4 and 0 of 2 at the 3-point line, had one rebound and two turnovers. But in his 14 minutes on the floor McWilliams had a plus-minus of plus-11, the highest for any of the nine who played for Fresno State.

The junior was the only Bulldogs player higher than a plus-4.

Grimes with 13 points and 15 rebounds had his fourth double-double in the Bulldogs’ six Mountain West Conference games.

Before Tuesday, the Bulldogs’ largest deficit in a game was 12 points in a loss at TCU in November and a win this month at Utah State. The 20-point deficit was the largest Fresno State has erased on the way to a victory going back through the 2011-12 season.

“To show that resiliency says a lot about this group of guys,” coach Justin Hutson said. “I have been coaching for a long time. I have been down before, and I have been on the opposite side and had a lead and blew it, so the key to that is to stay poised, make an adjustment if you need to and make sure everybody stays together. That is what we did.”

Jordan Campbell, the mid-year transfer from Oregon State, is officially enrolled in school. Hutson had recruited the 6-3 guard from Adelanto when an assistant at San Diego State. “He’ll sit and be eligible at this time next year,” Hutson said. “He’s a big-time athlete and he has some toughness, too.”

Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
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