The Fresno State men’s basketball team hit the court in Denver on Thursday for the Bulldogs’ first NCAA Tournament game in 15 years, but the reaction around the university was somewhat muted.
Instead, fans flocked to a familiar bar across campus to cheer and moan with every bounce of the basketball as the Bulldogs took on the Utah Utes. Fresno State took a short-lived lead in the second half before losing 80-69.
The Fresno State campus was quiet in the moments leading up to the big game. The school designated three viewing areas: the lounge in the University Student Union, the bowling area just below it and The Bucket – the school’s pub.
Only The Bucket had any sort of crowd. However, most – if not all – were there for the beer, the food or to hang out between classes. In fact, most seemed annoyed by the bellowing commentators on the blasting pregame show.
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Most of the students said they were more concerned with midterms.
The cool campus response is understandable – some of the students present were in kindergarten the last time the Bulldogs made the Big Dance.
“You should try Dog House,” one student suggested.
He was right. Dog House Grill was an entirely different scene, as a mostly older crowd sporting Bulldog red and St. Patrick’s Day green settled into every table, booth and bar stool – many with eyes fixed on the game.
You definitely appreciate it more now. You know how hard it is to get back.
Fresno State fan Demetri Karabinis on the Bulldogs’ first NCAA appearance in 15 years
“It’s been way too long,” said Demetri Karabinis, who sat with five friends celebrating both March Madness and St. Patrick’s Day.
Karabinis and his friends remember the Bulldogs’ last trip to the tournament in 2001, in which the team blasted Cal but lost to Michigan State.
“You definitely appreciate it more now,” Karabinis said. “You know how hard it is to get back.”
When the starting lineups were shown around 5:20 p.m., the bar roared. A few people let out a howl when coach Rodney Terry was introduced.
“I feel good for Terry,” Henry Hernandez said. “He’s been here five years and put in a lot of hard work. He definitely paid his dues.”
The fans at Dog House took every opportunity they could to cheer. Unfortunately, the exasperated moans won out, as Fresno State, a 14 seed, went into the locker room at the half trailing the third-seeded Utes by 11.
Connor Loggins, a junior at Fresno State, was the most outspoken fan during the first half.
“We’re not rebounding at all – obviously their 7-footer (Utah’s Jakob Poeltl) was going to give us trouble, but come on guys,” he said. “And we keep getting called for these ticky-tack fouls.”
However, Loggins’ all-student group remained optimistic: “I like the position we’re in – we’re a second-half team.”
The Dog House crowd went berserk when the Bulldogs took a lead midway through the second half, but the madness was short-lived, as the team gave up the lead soon after as Utah strengthened its defense.
Joseph Peacock, a fan of Fresno State athletics for years, said it was obvious why the Bulldogs lost.
“The defense was good, but they just needed to make more baskets.”
Staff Writer Razi Syed contributed to this story.