With four games remaining in the regular season, coming off a dullish loss to Air Force and on the road Saturday against No. 6 Nevada, Fresno State put the basketball in the hands of Deshon Taylor, its senior leader.
He knocked down his shots. He beat the Wolf Pack’s switches. He almost got them home, playing much of the second half without a foul-plagued Braxton Huggins and with little offense around him in a rough, physical game.
But the Wolf Pack took advantage of their length and an out-sized advantage at the foul line, and down the stretch won the final four minutes by coming up with a score off a steal and another off an offensive rebound to squeeze out some breathing room in a 74-68 victory before a full house at the Lawlor Events Center.
“Everything was self-explanatory,” Taylor said. “They just lost a game (at San Diego State) that they thought they probably shouldn’t have lost. They came back home and wanted to prove to the country that was just a bad game for them, so we knew we were going to get everything they were going to throw at us.
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“You can’t fault our effort tonight. Everybody played hard. We just didn’t get the outcome we wanted to.”
Taylor pulled the Bulldogs (19-8, 10-5 in the Mountain West) along from the start, taking advantage of Nevada switches. He finished with 30 points and eight assists, accounting for 19 of the Bulldogs’ 26 baskets, and he had to with Huggins limited to just 18 minutes.
“He made a play for himself or made a play for others,” coach Justin Hutson said. “That’s what good players do, and he did a lot of them tonight.”
When Hutson tried to get Huggins on the floor he was off it quickly. Huggins picked up his third foul with 17:54 to play, hitting the bench. He was back in at 15:24 and out at 15:05 with a fourth foul, then in at 5:47 and out at 4:27 with a fifth foul.
Huggins went in leading Fresno State with 14.3 shots and 19.0 points per game, but was 3 of 6 in scoring nine points with two turnovers, no assists and one rebound.
So it was Taylor on the floor most of the second half with Sam Bittner, Noah Blackwell, New Williams, Nate Grimes or Christian Gray, who started in place of Grimes. Freshman Aguir Agau got four minutes in the first half.
The Bulldogs hung in, competing much better than they had in the loss to Air Force. But over the past four games Blackwell had averaged 9.0 points, Bittner 5.8, Williams 5.3, Agau 1.0, Gray 0.5.
In that second half Blackwell was 0 of 3 and Williams 0 of 2, each finishing 1 of 7. Grimes finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds, his 10th double-double this season.
But the Bulldogs were limited at the offensive end, and 17 turnovers obviously didn’t help, their most in conference play.
They also had difficult matchups with Jordan Caroline and Tre’Shawn Thurman – Caroline scored 17 points with six rebounds; Thurman had 14 points, 10 rebounds and was one of three Nevada players with four assists. Caleb Martin led the Wolf Pack (25-2, 12-2) with 24 points, 11 coming at the foul line.
Fresno State was called for 26 fouls to 16 for Nevada, and the Wolf Pack was 22 of 31 at the line compared to 5 of 10 for the Bulldogs.