Fresno State is a bit different than it has been over the past four seasons under coach Rodney Terry and the four before that under coach Steve Cleveland, the first tip to that a 4-0 start. But how they got there on Sunday with an 82-65 victory at Rice is very telling, as well.
The Bulldogs, in a matchup against a zone-heavy team, handled it much better than they have in the past, knocking down 26 of 47 shots (55.3 percent) including 8 of 16 at the 3-point line, both season highs in percentages. Coupled with another solid effort at the defensive end, they were able to get away from the Owls with ease midway through the second half, pushing a lead to as many as 21 points.
Marvelle Harris, who went in third in the Mountain West Conference with 19.3 points per game, hit 7 of 11 shots and led the Bulldogs with 26 points and six assists. Karachi Edo had a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds and Cezar Guerrero and Paul Watson both added 15 points.
The 4-0 start is the best for the Bulldogs since opening 7-0 in the 2006-07 season.
“It feels really good,” coach Rodney Terry said. “I think our guys feel good about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it right now and just staying together and working hard. We know when you go on the road it’s never easy. You have to come in and work the game hard and get after it at another level. I’m happy with where we are and how hard the guys are working right now.”
Attacking zone – The Bulldogs had difficulties attacking zone defenses last season, getting clunky at times when hesitant with the ball and settling for jump shots. And they did not start particularly well this year, hitting only 39.7 percent of their shots in a matchup against Pepperdine. But they were much better against the Owls, moving the basketball and getting quality shots inside and at the 3-point line.
“I think we’re more comfortable against it,” Harris said. “After that Pepperdine game we got back in the gym and we worked on a lot of different actions against it.
“I think everybody is comfortable with it. They know where guys are going to be, everybody is getting in the right spots and guys are starting to knock down shots.”
The 55.3 shooting percentage was the Bulldogs’ best in a road game since they hit 63.9 percent in beating Siena 89-75 in the second of three games in the College Basketball Invitational on April 2, 2014. Fresno State hit 23 of 36 shots in that game, including 8 of 15 at the 3-point line.
“I thought we did a good job of not settling,” Terry said. “We drove the basketball not with the intent to create for ourselves but to create for teammates.
“We probably had our best ball movement offensively all year. Guys really shared the basketball and we really attacked on our terms and tried to do the things that we asked them to do, that we practiced and we talked about. We kept it really simple and I thought guys stepped in and made good plays.”
Stealing away – The Bulldogs had 10 more steals and allowed Rice to hit only 21 of 54 shots (38.9 percent), and that is giving up some too easy baskets in transition and 26 points in the paint.
“Pretty solid,” Terry said. “I thought the one area we can continue to get better is transition defense. We gave up 11 points early in the first half in transition and not getting back and getting our defense set. Once we get back and get our defense set, were pretty good.”
Fresno State went in leading the Mountain West with 9.3 steals per game.
Et cetera – Fresno State outrebounded the Owls 33-26, not counting team rebounds, and have out-rebounded their opponent in four games in a row. The Bulldogs last season were a minus-3.2 in rebounding margin, ranked ninth of 11 in the Mountain West. “We have to keep working on that,” Terry said. “We’ve probably gotten off to our best start ever doing that, but we just have to continue to emphasize it, especially on the defensive glass.”
▪ The Bulldogs again had to deal with some foul trouble. They were called for 21 fouls, the fourth game in a row they have been called for 20 or more. Lionel Ellison fouled out and Guerrero and forward Torren Jones both had four fouls.
▪ Defense had been an issue for the Owls – in their first three games, they allowed opponents to hit 50.8 percent of their shots including 44.4 percent from the 3-point line. Rice had lost by double-digits in two of the three, losing 97-65 at Cal, 80-54 at San Francisco and 77-69 to Oregon State.
▪ With the 26 points, Harris moved closer to the Top 10 all-time at Fresno State. The senior guard has 1,390 career points, and sits in 14th place, just behind Gary Alcorn (1957-59) with 1,401, Rod Higgins (1979-82) with 1,402, Roy Jones (1973-76) with 1,407 and Dominick Young (1995-97), who is in 10th with 1,408 points.
▪ The Bulldogs next play on Friday against Delaware State at the Save Mart Center. Tip is 7 p.m. “We’re going to get back and continue to work on advantage basketball,” Terry said. “We’re at our best when we’re playing to our strength, when we’re able to get up and down the floor and share the basketball. I think it’s getting back and working on a little of advantage basketball from an offensive standpoint and then working on our transition defense as well.”
Fresno State (4-0) vs. Delaware State (0-4), 7 p.m. Friday at Save Mart Center