Fresno State had a plan going in Saturday in a men’s basketball matchup with No. 6 Nevada.
The Bulldogs wanted to beat the Wolf Pack’s switching defense. With Deshon Taylor and Braxton Huggins on the floor, they could win against the bigger Nevada guards.When the Wolf Pack switched and had a big trying to stay in front, that obviously played to the Bulldogs’ advantage.
Taylor and Huggins could shoot over them, drive around them.
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The Bulldogs played through Taylor from the start, but when Huggins picked up a third foul with 17:54 to go, too much of the offense went away. They made a big run but Nevada gained control down the stretch in a 74-68 victory at the Lawlor Events Center.
Fresno State (19-7, 10-5 in the MW) had enough to be in it, but not enough to win it.
The Bulldogs had 26 baskets and Taylor scored 11 of them and assisted on eight others.
“He made plays for himself or made plays for others,” coach Justin Hutson said. “That’s what good players do and he did a lot of it tonight.”
If it didn’t run through Taylor, there wasn’t a lot there.
“He’s a tough cover because he’s one of those guys who knows how to draw fouls and he flops and he’s a little guard compared to our guards so they’re going to give him the call,” said Caleb Martin, who led the Wolf Pack with 24 points.
“Our bigs and our guards want to get up on him, but they don’t want to give him easy fouls, then you want to back up a little bit. We were just trying to switch up a little bit, soft blitz here and there and then just regular switch. Sometimes we’d tell Cody (Martin) to get over the screen, but it was tough because he was hitting. We switched it up a little bit and obviously it didn’t work how we wanted it, but whatever … we got the ‘W.’”
Taylor hit 11 of 19 shots including 5 of 7 at the 3-point line, scoring 30 points. Nate Grimes had his 10th double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds.
But Huggins had only nine points in 18 minutes – he played only four minutes in the second half before fouling out with 4:27 to go.
Noah Blackwell was 1 of 7 with three points. New Williams was 1 of 7 with two points. Sam Bittner again was a factor at both ends of the floor, taking charges, rebounding the basketball. But he is not one to hunt shots – he hit 3 of 7 shots, slightly more than the 5.8 he was averaging in conference play, in scoring eight points.
The Bulldogs had just two players score 10 or more points, not a winning formula. They’ve done it – winning at Boise State and at Wyoming. But with two players scoring in double-digits they are just 2-3 this season. With three players scoring 10 or more they are 6-5. With four or more players they are 11-0.
And they were well short of that against Nevada.
They needed more at the offensive end from Huggins and Blackwell, from Williams and Bittner. Bittner has scored 10 or more points 11 times in his career, and the Bulldogs are 9-2 in those games; they are 6-1 this season, the loss 82-81 to Utah State.
They will need more in the final three regular-season games against 2-12 Wyoming and 0-14 San Jose State sandwiched around a trip to 10-4 San Diego State, which after winning at UNLV on Saturday is the hottest team in the Mountain West with five wins in a row.
They will need more to advance in the Mountain West Tournament, which could include another matchup against the Wolf Pack.
Nevada took 31 foul shots compared to just 10 for the Bulldogs, but that is not even the largest free throw disparity they have faced this season.
When Fresno State won at Utah State 78-77 on Jan. 9, the Aggies got to the line 30 times and the Bulldogs were just six times.
The Wolf Pack made 17 more free throws (22 of 31 to 5 of 10), the Aggies 18 more (21 of 30 to 3 of 6).
Fresno State made just 5 of its 10 free throws and Taylor went to the line and missed two with 3:49 to go and the Bulldogs down by three, 65-62.
The senior guard has hit 83.0 percent of his free throws in his career and has a chance to leave at the top of the Bulldogs’ all-time list.
He is just behind Wil Hooker (1989-’92) at 83.6
But this season Taylor is hitting 76.6 percent of his foul shots, and in conference play it is much lower in the second half. After going 1 of 4 in the second-half at Nevada Taylor is hitting 68.4 of his free throws in the second half and 87.0 percent in the first half.
▪ Hutson on starting Christian Gray over Nate Grimes: “Coach’s decision.”
Not difficult to decipher. Grimes over the past two games had scored seven points with three rebounds while getting into foul trouble in a victory at New Mexico and no points and nine rebounds in a loss to Air Force.
His play at the defensive end also had been deteriorating.
Grimes responded in a tough matchup, hitting 7 of 9 shots including a three for 16 points and grabbing 11 rebounds for his 10th double-double of the season.
“I thought Nate had a good game,” Hutson said. “I thought he played well. I thought he finished strong in there. Nate is a good player. He’s very important to us.”
▪ When Fresno State lost to Nevada at the Save Mart Center, the Wolf Pack was 10 of 37 at the 3-point line and at that point hitting 33.3 percent of their threes in 17 games.
The Wolf Pack hit 8 of their first 12 on Saturday before reverting to norm in the second half. Still, after going 2 of 11 from three in the second half Nevada finished 10 of 24, 41.7 percent, and over its past 10 games is hitting 36.6 percent of its 3-point shots.
At 36.6, the Wolf Pack would be fourth in the conference.
▪ In scoring 30 points, Taylor jumped to 15th from 18th on the all-time Fresno State scoring list. He now has scored 1,380 points in 88 career games, moving past Courtney Alexander (1,353 points in 60 games from 1998 to 2000), Paul Watson (1,361 in 135 games from 2014 to ‘17) and Mike McFerson (1,378 in 78 games from 1960 to ‘62).
Next up is Gary Alcorn in 14th, who scored 1,401 points in 78 games from 1957 to ‘59.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada