Down two with 28 seconds to go, Braxton Huggins wanted to make a play for his Fresno State basketball team. He went right by a defender and floated a shot over the help, drawing a foul on the made basket and knocking down the free throw to put the Bulldogs in the lead.
And yet that was far from it.
The final seconds of the Bulldogs’ 65-63 victory over Boise State on Wednesday night could be described any number of ways by the 5,548 at the Save Mart Center.
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Coach Justin Hutson went with this: “I don’t say it much, you know I’m pretty much coach-speak, but it got a little fun in the last two minutes because we haven’t been in a lot of close games. So it was like, let’s see what our team is going to do …”
On a night they were a bit scattered at the offensive end, the Bulldogs did plenty down the stretch, starting with the and-one by Huggins.
Up one, Deshon Taylor came up with a steal, but turned it over right back trying to push the ball up the floor. The Broncos’ Alex Hobbs raced into the paint and with 14 seconds on the clock had his layup blocked by guard Noah Blackwell.
Sam Bittner grabbed the rebound and got the ball back to Blackwell, who was fouled. He made both foul shots, sandwiched around a Boise State timeout, to put the Bulldogs up three with nine seconds to go.
Hutson took a timeout, though that didn’t exactly go to plan. The Bulldogs fouled in the backcourt with eight seconds to go.
“I talked about right when they cross halfcourt, so we were hoping it would be with about six seconds instead of eight,” Hutson said. “But you practice that. It’s never perfect because you don’t want to foul them when they’re going into a three. But what you’re not going to do is have them come down and run a play and shoot a three and they have five guys on the floor that can shoot a three.
“We’re going to take our chance with first of all they have to make both free throws, then they have to foul, then we have to miss and they have to go down and score …”
The Broncos were only 3 of 17 at the 3-point line (17.6 percent) and 16 of 17 at the foul line (94.1 percent) and they did get those free throws; Hobbs knocked them down.
The Bulldogs then had difficulty getting the ball in play and had to take their last timeout. They had Bittner making the inbound pass and Taylor and Nate Grimes closest to it, and the Broncos forced the pass Grimes’ way. He hit the first of two foul shots, leaving the Broncos an opening with 6.7 seconds remaining.
They had time, but ended up with a long contested three from Hobbs.
“We would have liked to have done it at six,” Hutson said. “It would have been a little bit better. And if we could have got Deshon the ball, who shoots free throws great, then it would have worked, but basketball is a little crazy like that.”
There were 16 lead changes and the score was tied 11 times. The Bulldogs (18-6, 9-3 in the MW) were outrebounded by a 37-33 margin and had substantial deficits in second-chance points (16-4), bench scoring (20-5) and fast-break points (15-0).
Yet, they found a way to win with Grimes putting together his ninth double-double of the season with 13 points and 15 rebounds and Huggins scoring 26 points.
The last three obviously played large.
“Just make a play, get to the rim so I could come up, dish it, get to the rim and make the right play,” said Huggins, who had been held to just six points in the Bulldogs’ victory at Boise State last month and got off to a 1 of 6 start on Wednesday. “I knew I could get by him so I was reading the help defense. I was reading the guy behind him.”
The undersized Bulldogs’ defense held Boise State to just 36.7 percent of its shots including the 17.6 from three.
“Our offensive struggles besides Braxton obviously didn’t effect our defense, if you look at the defensive numbers,” Hutson said. “Sometimes games go like that. You’re not going to make 15 threes, so I was proud that our guys continued to play the next play.”