Fresno State Basketball

Subtle change has Bulldogs looking like they can make run at Mountain West tournament

Taylor ignites final run, Bulldogs stun San Diego State

The Fresno State Bulldogs college basketball team was down by six at San Diego State with 1:18 to go, but forced three turnovers down the stretch and came away with a 76-74 victory, clinching the No. 3 seed at the Mountain West Tournament
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The Fresno State Bulldogs college basketball team was down by six at San Diego State with 1:18 to go, but forced three turnovers down the stretch and came away with a 76-74 victory, clinching the No. 3 seed at the Mountain West Tournament

In the Fresno State Bulldogs’ 76-74 victory Wednesday night at San Diego State, Deshon Taylor scored 25 points and had four rebounds including one big one at the offensive end with 66 seconds to go that led to his own 3-point basket to push the winning rally.

He had five assists, one steal, hit 7 of 12 shots including 4 of 6 at the 3-point line and got to the foul line nine times, all of it coming after a subtle switch that could set up the Bulldogs for an interesting run next week at the Mountain West Conference Tournament.

Fresno State had played mostly through Taylor the past four games, but against the Aztecs coach Justin Hutson had Noah Blackwell on the ball in a first half in which the Bulldogs hit 51.9 percent of their shots and scored at 1.147 points per possession against a defense that went in No. 1 in Mountain West games in scoring and field goal percentage defense.

“He usually stays on the ball a little bit and he played a little bit more this game,” Hutson said. “We alternate back and forth, when Noah goes out then D.T. goes on the ball. Noah is good in pick-and-roll. He can help relieve some of that pressure bringing the ball up.”

When splitting four games before their bye last week, Taylor had scored early at New Mexico, and again at Nevada when Braxton Huggins was in foul trouble. But he also passed up some shots trying to facilitate offense and get teammates involved early against Air Force and Wyoming.

Taylor in the first half of those two games …

Air Force: 1 of 5, 1 of 4 from three, 2 assists, 7 points

Wyoming: 2 of 5, 1 of 4 from three, 3 assists, 6 points

Blackwell also had struggled, hitting only 1 of 7 shots in three games in a row. Before that run he was hitting 45.3 percent of his shots, 49.3 in conference play.

He was 1 of 4 at San Diego State and had one assist, but Taylor got shots, Huggins got shots and the change might help all three players as well as the Bulldogs. Huggins (30.9) and Taylor (30.4) have scored 61.3 percent of the Bulldogs’ points in conference play.

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Fresno State’s Noah Blackwell, left, and Braxton Huggins, right, shake hands after a play in a 71-60 victory over Wyoming Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019 in Fresno. ERIC PAUL ZAMORA Fresno Bee file

Fresno State has to get by San Jose State on Saturday at the Save Mart Center before it gets to Las Vegas, but it has the No. 3 seed locked up.

And once there the Bulldogs, who have had some rough first halves in conference play, could open some wounds in opponents early, which it did at San Diego State, pushing a lead to as many as 15 points on a nice feed from Blackwell to Laz Rojas.

Fresno State had 39 points in the first half, a number it had surpassed just twice in Mountain West play, one against San Jose State.

Six times it had scored 30 or less.

Nine times it had hit 40.0 percent of its shots or less.

Huh?

Sometimes, the stats add up but just don’t make sense.

For instance: Taylor’s monster game resulted in a plus/minus of minus-1.

In the first half, he knocked down huge 3-pointers at the end of the shot clock from right, then left, then straight out just before the horn sounded to send the Bulldogs into the locker room leading 39-32.

In the second half, he kept right on going despite picking up a third foul with 16:09 to go and a fourth with 3:44 remaining.

Gray emerges

Christian Gray was pressed into a season-high 22 minutes because Nate Grimes was limited to 13 minutes before fouling out.

Gray scored eight points and had seven rebounds, five at the offensive end. He blocked a shot.

Final flurry

The Aztecs turned over the ball three times in the final minute, blowing a lead that was 72-66 with 1:18 to go. Two of those turnovers were by Devin Watson, a senior guard. Watson had five turnovers, one off a season-high.

Fresno State was outscored 16-10 off turnovers, but six of those 10 points came in that final flurry,

Tournament time

As the No. 3 seed, the Bulldogs open next week’s Mountain West Tournament in the quarterfinals against the winner of the first-round game between the No. 6 seed and the No. 11 seed. The quarterfinal is scheduled to tip off at 8:30 p.m. Thursday.

San Jose State is locked into the No. 11. Air Force is 8-9 and in sixth with New Mexico and Colorado State one game back at 7-10.

The Falcons close the regular season at Boise State, New Mexico is at Wyoming and Colorado State gets UNLV at home.

Layup line

New Williams, who was in a shooting slump hitting only 24.3 percent of his shots in six games, was 3 of 6 and 2 of 4 at the 3-point line in scoring eight points against San Diego State. His second three came with 6:26 to go and tied the score at 61.

San Diego State had not lost a game on Senior Night since 2005.

With his 25 points, Taylor has now scored 1,421 points in 90 career games and is up to 11th on the all-time Fresno State scoring list.

The senior guard started the game in 15th, but moved past Gary Alcorn (1,401 from 1957-59), Rod Higgins (1,402 from 1979-82), Roy Jones (1,407 from 1973-76) and Dominick Young (1,408 from 1995-97).

Next up is Tod Bernard, who is 10th with 1,426 points from 1989-92. Marvelle Harris is No. 1 with 2,031 from 2012-16.

Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
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