Fresno State forward Nate Grimes had it right from the start.
It took the rest of the Bulldogs a while to join in, but they eventually got past New Mexico 82-70 Saturday night with a big assist from their 6-foot-8 forward who scored 19 points and had a career-high and Save Mart Center-record 19 rebounds.
“I was just rebounding,” said Grimes, who had 17 rebounds in a victory over Cal State Monterey Bay last season. “That’s what Coach told me to do and I’m going to do it.”
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Getting to 16-5 and 7-2 in the Mountain West wasn’t quite that simple.
The Lobos shot the ball very poorly for 40 minutes, but the Bulldogs just couldn’t get away until they got under the 8-minute mark. Still, in a two-possession game at that point, Deshon Taylor came up with a steal that led to a missed dunk by New Williams and one of seven offensive rebounds by Grimes, who from the paint fed Noah Blackwell for a wide-open three.
It went down, and the Bulldogs went up 62-53.
“I thought New was going to be on ESPN again,” said Grimes, referencing a breakaway windmill dunk Williams had in the Bulldogs’ victory at Wyoming. “I guess he didn’t and I just had to find Noah and he made the shot.
“I just wanted to find a shot, any shot. Anybody that’s open, and it worked out. He was wide open – cash money. He’s going to knock it down every time.”
It was Grimes’ first assist in three games, his second in six, and it sparked the Bulldogs.
Taylor and Braxton Huggins were 1 of 7 and 1 of 5 in that victory at Wyoming, rebounding from a loss as a road favorite at Colorado State, and then 2 of 7 and 2 of 8 in the first half against the Lobos. But Taylor was unstoppable down the stretch on his drives to the basket and Huggins heated up in the second half, as well.
Huggins finished with 22 points, eight rebounds and two assists, with 14 of those points coming in the second half. Taylor had 20 points, seven rebounds and four assists, with 15 of those points coming in the second half and 13 in the final eight minutes.
“They spread the floor tonight,” coach Justin Hutson said. “They didn’t want us to drive and kick out. We had some good looks that we missed, but D.T. and Braxton, when we had them going downhill, they pushed through those defenders and finished, and we really needed that.
“We only made four threes tonight so we needed some guys to get to the basket and get to the foul line.”
The Bulldogs in the second half hit 14 of 28 shots – they were 14 of 35 in the first half. They also got to the foul line 25 times in those final 20 minutes, taking more free throws than they had in any of their first eight Mountain West games.
They whiffed on a few too many (they were 17 of 25 in the second half, 68 percent), but dominated the Lobos elsewhere on the floor.
New Mexico (9-12, 3-6) went through some rough shooting stretches – the Lobos had a 0-of-12 stretch in the first half and finished the game making 2 of their last 14 shots. The Bulldogs did a good job limiting them in transition, and with Grimes had a 51-38 advantage in rebounds; their 13 offensive rebounds matched the most they have had in a conference game and was two off a season-high set in a victory over Cal.
Rebounding was a point of emphasis the past two days preparing for a New Mexico team that was bigger one through five, but in this game nowhere near as physical.
“It’s a credit to the guys,” Hutson said. “We had a big rebounding practice for two days and it wasn’t long because it was spirited; they understood. The focus was there right away. It was a player-driven drill.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada