Fresno State Basketball

For Fresno State, another sluggish start was biggest issue in 82-81 loss to Utah State

Bulldogs fall to Utah State and loses battle for second place in MW

Coach Justin Hutson says Fresno State needs to start their game off faster and play better defense if they're going to contend for a Mountain West title.
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Coach Justin Hutson says Fresno State needs to start their game off faster and play better defense if they're going to contend for a Mountain West title.

Lose by one as Fresno State did on Tuesday night to Utah State, 82-81, and there are bound to be a lot of things through 40 minutes of basketball that could change that result.

The Bulldogs were on the wrong end of a matchup against 6-foot-11 freshman Neemias Queta and, no, they didn’t get many calls – the Aggies had just three fouls for the first 19:50 in the second half, not exactly the norm for a team that had averaged 17.8 fouls per game in Mountain West play, right in the middle of the conference.

But it’s a one-game sample, and it’s over.

What’s not is a run of dreadful starts by the Bulldogs, now five games and counting.

Can they stop it?

First, the gory details.

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Fresno State’s Nate Grimes, right, gets fouled hard by Utah State’s Sam Merrill while on a fast break during the Bulldogs’ 82-81 loss to the Aggies at the Save Mart Center in Fresno on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. CRAIG KOHLRUSS ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

In the first six minutes against San Diego State, at Colorado State, at Wyoming, against New Mexico and against Utah State, the Bulldogs have found themselves lacking at both ends of the floor.

At the offensive end Fresno State has been …

San Diego State: 2 of 8 overall shooting, 0 of 4 on 3-pointers, 5 points

at Colorado State: 2 of 9, 2 of 7, 9 points

at Wyoming: 4 of 8, 0 of 5, 9 points

New Mexico: 3 of 9, 1 of 5, 7 points

Utah State: 3 of 8, 0 of 2, 9 points

At the defensive end Fresno State opponents have been …

San Diego State: 5 of 11, 2 of 6, 12 points

at Colorado State: 5 of 9, 4 of 6, 14 points

at Wyoming: 3 of 4, 2 of 3, 8 points

New Mexico: 7 of 11, 1 of 5, 16 points

Utah State: 7 of 9, 4 of 4, 20 points

The Bulldogs have hit 33.3 percent of their shots, while allowing opponents to hit 61.4 percent. They have hit 14.3 percent from three, while allowing opponents to hit 54.2 percent.

Three of those teams are in the bottom half of the conference, but the Bulldogs have been behind after six minutes in all but one of those games. They led 9-8 at Wyoming, which was 1-7 going into a game Wednesday at Air Force.

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Fresno State’s Sam Bittner goes up for a shot against Utah State in an 82-81 loss to the Aggies at the Save Mart Center in Fresno on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. Bittner scored 13 points with three rebounds and two assists. CRAIG KOHLRUSS ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

“We have to learn from it,” coach Justin Hutson said. “We have to watch some film and see what can we learn from it. But I told the guys that it is not a time for, ‘I told you so. It’s not a time to get on you.’

“I thought that the effort was great in the second half, but I did not like the start of our game. I haven’t liked the start of our games and we need to talk about that and we have to address that.”

Hutson said he would start the best players, but there aren’t a ton of options there.

Deshon Taylor, check. Braxton Huggins, check. Sam Bittner, check. Nate Grimes, check. Hutson could go back to Noah Blackwell over New Williams, but to be 16-6 and 7-3 in the Mountain West is above expectation for as limited as the Bulldogs are this season.

They need to find answers within those options.

“We do try to pressure at the start of the game,” Hutson said. “We get our energy there. We’re always going to push it up fast. It’s not like we’re back in a zone and we need to jump-start ourselves. I think our senior leadership has to get in there a little bit and say, ‘We need to start this game a little better.’“

In the loss to the Aggies, those seniors came with pluses and minuses.

Huggins had 15 points in the first half, hitting 4 of 8 shots, but struggled at the defensive end.

Taylor had two points. The senior guard had a huge first half at Colorado State, scoring 15 points with three assists, but in the past three games has hit just 3 of 13 shots in the first half, has four assists and scored a total of seven points.

Bittner had a productive first half against the Aggies, but consistency is a question with him, as well. After putting up a career-high 18 points in a victory over San Diego State, Bittner went scoreless in the loss at Colorado State and had six points at Wyoming and against New Mexico, going a combined 3 of 16 in those three games.

Race for No. 2

The loss dropped the Bulldogs into third place in the Mountain West at 7-3, 16-6 overall. They trail No. 6 Nevada (8-1 with a game Wednesday night at Colorado State) and Utah State (8-2).

Fresno State still has games against Wyoming and San Jose State at the Save Mart Center, but compared to Utah State could have the tougher schedule the rest of the way trying to get a No. 2 seed in the conference tournament.

The Bulldogs have road games remaining at UNLV on Saturday, at New Mexico, at Nevada and at San Diego State. Those teams are a combined 22-15 starting play Wednesday. The Aggies have road games at San Diego State, at Air Force, at Boise State and at Colorado State. Those teams are a combined 18-19.

Layup line …

The past four games between Fresno State and Utah State: Aggies 82-81, Bulldogs 78-77, Aggies 65-62 and Aggies 81-79 in overtime.

Fresno State had 11 offensive rebounds, four by Taylor. That is the most against Utah State in conference play, and two more than the Aggies had. The Bulldogs had a 17-13 advantage in second-chance points.

Queta picked up a third foul with 16:24 to go, but did not sub out until 11:02 and played 14:43 the rest of the way without a fourth foul.

With Queta defending the paint Utah State went into the game ranked second in the nation in 2-point field goal percentage defense, allowing opponents to hit just 41.1 percent of their shots.

The Bulldogs were only 7 of 14 converting layups, but they did hit 17 of 32 shots inside the 3-point line, 53.1 percent.

Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
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