The first half of basketball, Fresno State deployed a number of players against Wyoming guard Josh Adams. It was Paul Watson at the start with Julien Lewis coming off the bench to pick up the leading scorer in the Mountain West for a stretch, then Lionel Ellison and back to Watson. And Adams knocked down his shots, got to the line, put up 17 points.
But in the second half, it was almost exclusively Watson with some help from his friends to assist in cutting off a drive, force the ball out of Adams’ hands, and a much different result that also led to something very different for the Bulldogs.
In their fourth try, they finally won back-to-back conference games, taking down the Cowboys 71-60 on Tuesday night at Save Mart Center before an announced crowd of 5,802.
Adams got his points, ending up with 32. But after hitting 4 of 7 shots and all seven of his free throw attempts in the first half, he was only 3 of 12 in the second. That final 20 minutes started oddly – the first shot Adams attempted was a three-pointer almost straight out and it was a wedgie, getting stuck between rim and backboard. But Watson at 6-foot-7 used his length against the 6-2 guard to his advantage, turning the game.
It was all defense.
Bulldogs coach Rodney Terry
Fresno State (14-7, 5-3) trailed 37-33 at halftime but took a lead with an 11-0 run and after Wyoming had broke back, the Bulldogs got away again with 15-2 run.
“It was all defense,” coach Rodney Terry said. “Every time we came to a huddle we didn’t talk anything about offense obviously other than the fact that we were going to run this play or that play and we needed to have execution.
“But it was all defense. Everything was predicated around our defense. We got a chance to get back in the game and then get ahead with our defense.”
The matchup with Watson on Adams was at the center of that.
“I feel like I made a great effort to stay in front of Josh, but it was more of a team thing,” said Watson, who scored 10 of his 12 points in the second half while making the going much more difficult on his assigned target. “I like to think I did take on the challenge, but my guys had my back so that’s what it comes down to.”
With Adams struggling to get shots, Wyoming hit only 5 of 24 in the second half (20.8 percent) and all of the makes came from the three-point line. The Cowboys were 0 of 8 inside the three-point line, whiffing on drives to the basket or mid-range jump shots.
After a while, frustration showed in the Wyoming guard, who came in averaging 24.6 points per game.
Fresno State return to action at 7 p.m. Feb. 3 at San Jose State, looking to complete the season sweep of the Spartans.
“I could definitely tell when I started to climb into him a bit and the way he was talking to his teammates, I could tell he was getting frustrated,” Watson said.
The Bulldogs, meanwhile, were getting away. Marvelle Harris, who led the Bulldogs with 25 points and in the process moved into third place on the all-time Fresno State scoring list, scored on layups sandwiched around a Wyoming turnover.
Watson scored from the line, Cezar Guerrero was fouled on a drive and knocked down a pair of free throws. Forward Cullen Russo hit one of two free throws, finishing with a double-double in his first career start, scoring 10 points with 10 rebounds.
Zoned ... in – Fresno State scored 38 of its points in the second half, hitting 41.7 percent of its shots, but getting to the free throw line 22 times with 16 makes.
The Bulldogs did it with Wyoming in zone, which at times has confounded them.
“Just stepping into our shots, taking them confident,” Harris said. “It’s a lot of guys working extra in the gym – nobody wants to leave the gym – so it’s repetition.”
Said Terry: “We attacked on our teams. I thought our guys did a really nice job in terms of coming down and really executing what we were trying to get done. You play against a Larry Shyatt team and Wyoming, they’re going to get back defensively so you’re going to play against a set defense for a majority of the time. They’re only sending one guy to the glass, so it’s not like you’re going to have a run-out and we can play to our strength in transition.
“It was critical that we didn’t have empty possessions and we got a shot every time down the floor and more than likely we wanted it to be on our terms.”
Carter returns – Sophomore Terrell Carter was cleared to return after missing two games due to an administrative issue related to coursework from the fall semester.
The backup center had missed two games, an overtime loss at San Diego State and a victory at Air Force. He had been practicing with the team while out, but did not play against the Cowboys.
“Terrell is going to work his way back in and a lot of times you look at matchups,” Terry said. “Torren Jones didn’t play as much as well tonight (14 minutes). The ebb and flow of every game is going to be different. The strategy of every game is different. The personnel is different. They play four guards out there and they play a small four-man like we’ve done the past two years with Paul Watson at the four. That makes it extremely difficult for a guy that is not used to be out there on the perimeter trying to guard a shooter out there and stuff.
“We worked with the lineup we had and I thought it was good for us. If those guys continue to work the next game up, next opportunity, they’ll have opportunities to play and contribute to our team.”
Et cetera – Terry on the start for Russo, who also had one assist and one blocked shot to go along with the 10 points and 10 rebounds: “Cullen has been coming on since we got back from Christmas break. He has really bought into our culture in terms of what we’re asking him to do. Sometimes with transfer players it takes a little while to adapt and adjust and I think he has done that, playing hard and really understanding what we need him to do from an offensive standpoint and a defensive standpoint. He’s a very instinctive player, a cerebral guy defensively and the more and more his work ethic continues to get better you’ll see more growth in his game on the floor.”
▪ Harris and Adams had a brief exchange after the game. “He said he’ll see me in Wyoming,” the Bulldogs guard said. The rematch is Feb. 17 in Laramie.
▪ Fresno State and Wyoming were even in rebounding margin in the first half, both teams with 14. The Bulldogs ended up with a 39-26 advantage including 12 offensive rebounds that they were able to turn into 14-second chance points. It was the sixth time in eight Mountain West games they have had 10 or more offensive rebounds.
▪ The Bulldogs also had a significant edge scoring off of turnovers. They had 22 points off 11 Wyoming turnovers while the Cowboys had seven points off seven Fresno State turnovers.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada