Fresno State Basketball

MW men’s championship: Fresno State beats San Diego State to earn NCAA berth

There were spectacular individual plays, start to finish. Huge dunks, off offensive rebounds and in transition. Big shots. Big drives. Big blocks. San Diego State had them. Fresno State had them.

But despite trailing in the final two minutes of the championship game of the Mountain West Tournament, it was the Bulldogs who emerged with the conference’s automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament, making the type of grind-it-out plays that had propelled them to wins in nine games in a row and 11 of their past 12.

It became a Bulldogs’ game down the stretch, right at home and comfy against a team that was longer and more athletic, that had outshot and outrebounded them all game.

And they won, 68-63, a victory that will have them in the Tournament, with a big T, for the first time since 2001 and touched off waves of emotion for coach Rodney Terry and the Bulldogs, particularly seniors Marvelle Harris, Cezar Guerrero and Julien Lewis, all four making it through some rough times to emerge conference tournament champs.

Once clear, up five points and with that many seconds on the clock and counting down, the smiles started.

“It was incredible,” said Harris, who led the Bulldogs with 18 points, four assists and had three steals. “Greatest feeling I’ve had in my whole basketball career.

“It’s a big win for the program, community, fans, everyone, and it’s just a great feeling. You’re overwhelmed and you just kind of ... unbelievable.”

How they got there, though, really wasn’t. Fresno State has won six games this season that were decided by three points or fewer, and been in tight many times. Terry used his last timeout with 1:03 to go, up by two points, with still a lot of game to play.

He didn’t feel naked without one, for use in case of emergency. “No,” he said, “I have older players out there on the floor and they knew, even in that last timeout, we instructed the whole thing, that we could play through.”

That is what they did, working back from a six-point deficit in the second half, which was considerable in a game in which the largest lead was seven, by San Diego State at the 17:58 mark in the first half.

“Just to battle, that’s what we’ve done, though. We’ve done that over the last month and a half,” Terry said. “I just give them a lot of credit for wanting it. At the end of he day, that’s what you have to have.”

Down 62-61 inside of two minutes to go, Lewis came up with a steal and raced up the floor. He looked for Harris, but there was a defender in the way. Lewis had not made a shot to that point in the game, 0 of 8, but he pulled up and fired.

“I had to take that shot,” he said. “I had to step up. I told Marvelle, ‘I’m going to step up.’ I had to come through for him and I wasn’t coming through in the first half, but I kept telling myself, ‘Just stay in the moment. Just stay in the moment.’

“When I took the shot and it came out of my hand, I knew it was good. I ran back. I’m like, ‘Man, that was unbelievable.’ ”

With 1:36 to go, the Bulldogs led 64-62.

The Aztecs (25-9) came down looking to tie the score, but Harris came up with a steal, the turnover by guard Dakarai Allen.

“We just didn’t take care of the ball like we should have,” the Aztecs’ Winston Shepard said. “We should have been better with it. Give credit to them. I thought we did a decent job throughout the game taking care of the ball and getting guys looks where they needed to get them at, but ultimately we came up a little bit short.”

Fresno State got no points out of that steal, but the Bulldogs reset quickly at the defensive end. Allen was fouled and with 28 seconds remaining could have tied the score at 64 with two foul shots, but he hit only the first of two.

Paul Watson, who played 26 minutes, a high since returning from a calf injury suffered in a Feb. 10 victory over San Diego State, came away with the rebound for the Bulldogs.

The Aztecs fouled Lewis, a 68.6 percent foul shooter. He hit both.

At the other end, Jeremy Hemsley cut his way into the lane to get to the rim, which had proved large for the Aztecs all game. They scored 38 of their 63 points in the paint, another 12 at the free throw line. But Karachi Edo was there. Edo, who with Harris was selected to the all-tournament team, swatted the shot away.

The ball caromed back to Lewis, who was fouled again. Again, he made both foul shots. The Bulldogs were up 68-63. There were six seconds when the ball was put back into play, five when it ended up back in the Bulldogs’ hands.

“It was just overwhelming at first,” Guerrero said. “It was coming to the point that finally, we’re going to win. So it was fun to take in because what we’ve been through as a team and all the ups and downs, we finally got over that hump.

“We won the championship and we’re heading to the NCAA Tournament and that’s one of our biggest bucket list things that we crossed off. We finally get to get a ring and go to the NCAA Tournament.”

Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada

FRESNO STATE 68, SAN DIEGO STATE 63

Fresno State

FG

FT

Reb

Min

M-A

M-A

O-T

A

PF

PTS

Edo

24

3-8

3-4

2-2

0

2

9

Russo

15

2-5

3-3

1-1

1

2

7

Lewis

37

1-9

5-6

0-7

0

3

8

Guerrero

23

2-5

3-3

0-1

1

1

8

Harris

40

7-19

0-0

1-4

4

1

18

Watson

26

3-4

0-0

0-5

0

2

8

Taylor

17

2-3

0-0

0-1

3

1

6

Ellison III

0

0-0

0-0

0-0

0

0

0

Bittner

1

0-0

0-0

0-0

0

0

0

Carter II

17

1-1

2-2

1-3

0

2

4

Totals

200

21-54

16-18

9-30

9

14

68

Percentages: FG .389, FT .889.

3-Point Goals: 10-24, .417 (Harris 4-9, Watson 2-3, Taylor 2-3, Lewis 1-3, Guerrero 1-3, Russo 0-3).

Team Rebounds: 6.

Blocked Shots: 3 (Edo 2, Carter II).

Turnovers: 12 (Harris 7, Carter II 3, Russo 2).

Steals: 11 (Harris 3, Lewis 3, Russo 2, Guerrero 2, Watson).

Technical Fouls: None.

San Diego State

FG

FT

Reb

Min

M-A

M-A

O-T

A

PF

PTS

Spencer

23

1-1

0-0

4-5

0

2

2

Shepard

34

5-10

5-6

2-8

7

5

15

Pope

30

8-16

0-0

3-11

0

0

19

Allen

34

4-6

1-2

0-4

0

3

9

Kell

34

1-9

3-4

1-2

3

1

5

Chol

13

1-3

0-0

0-0

0

1

2

Cheatham

16

3-3

1-2

0-2

0

0

7

Hemsley

16

1-9

2-2

1-3

1

2

4

Totals

200

24-57

12-16

13-37

11

14

63

Percentages: FG .421, FT .750.

3-Point Goals: 3-13, .231 (Pope 3-4, Allen 0-2, Hemsley 0-2, Kell 0-5).

Team Rebounds: 2.

Blocked Shots: 6 (Spencer 3, Cheatham 2, Allen).

Turnovers: 15 (Allen 3, Cheatham 3, Kell 3, Pope 2, Spencer 2, Shepard, Chol).

Steals: 6 (Allen 2, Shepard 2, Kell, Spencer).

Technical Fouls: None.

Fresno State

39

29

68

San Diego State

36

27

63

A—8,132. Officials—David Hall, Verne Harris, Larry Spaulding.

Related stories from Fresno Bee

  Comments