Fresno State put itself in a hole on Tuesday night against Utah State from the start. The Bulldogs gave up a slew of open shots early, let the road team get on a roll, hitting seven of its first nine shots. They didn’t have much to match up with Neemias Queta, the Aggies’ 6-foot-11 center. They didn’t get a lot of calls driving to the rim.
The Bulldogs were down by 13 at one point in the first half, and not playing well. But they kept closing and inside of one minute to play, they were right there.
With 41 seconds remaining the Aggies came out of a Fresno State timeout and ended up with a three by Quinn Taylor, which had to be well down their wish list of options with the shot clock running down to three seconds. But Taylor knocked it down, pushing the lead to five and the Aggies on to an 82-81 victory at the Save Mart Center in a showdown between teams that were 7-2 and tied for second place in the Mountain West Conference.
“The last few possessions we guarded really hard and they hit some tough shots,” coach Justin Hutson said.
The one by Taylor, not that tough.
The Bulldogs forced the ball out of the hands of Sam Merrill, the Aggies’ leading scorer, But Merrill found Taylor out top and open. He lined it up and fired.
Taylor to that point had six points. He was 2 of 5 and 0 of 2 at the 3-point line.
The Bulldogs (16-6, 7-3 in the MW) fell back into a solo third in conference. They had beat the Aggies 78-77 on Jan. 9 in Logan, Utah, when Braxton Huggins knocked down a 3-pointer with five seconds remaining. But their three at the end of this one, by Deshon Taylor, left them one point short.
And if they run into Queta again this season, it would be in the Mountain West Tournament. But they aren’t likely to find any new answers. Their best asset against Queta turned out to be the 6-11 Laz Rojas, who had just one rebound and one assist, but played to a plus-minus of plus-5 in 13 minutes. Hutson started with Nate Grimes and got Christian Gray on the floor for a minute, his first playing time since a victory over San Diego State on Jan. 22.
Queta hit 8 of 9 shots including a 3-pointer in scoring 18 points. He had 15 rebounds, five at the offensive end. He also had six assists and blocked four shots.
The Bulldogs also didn’t secure a rebound until the 13:52 mark in the first half – Rojas had the first. By that point Queta had five rebounds, two assists, one blocked shot and had hit that three, only his second 3-point shot of the season
“He’s a load in there,” Hutson said. “We wanted try to do as many high ball screens as possible to keep him away from the rim and he still got back there and not only did he block some shots he changed a lot of others.”
The Bulldogs drove the ball at him, without much success and without getting many calls on their way into the lane.
“They played good, solid defense,” Hutson said. “You have to give them credit on that. They don’t foul a lot. When we’re quicker than them, a lot of times they let those little touch fouls go when we’re driving by guys that can put us in the 1 and 1.
“When you’re quicker than them, you move around them a little bit, you get bumped and we needed those bump fouls tonight to get to the 1 and 1.”