Fresno State Basketball

NCAA Tournament: ’Dogs scrape into lead but stumble down stretch against Utah

They figured it out early in the second half. Fresno State, which had played with a grit and a gameness about it through a nine-game winning streak that had carried it in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2001, just didn’t have it early in a first-round matchup Thursday against Utah in the Midwest Regional.

Tentative, a step behind. Never buried, but not in good shape. The Bulldogs did get there, though.

Down as many as 15 in the first half and 11 at the break, they worked their way back into a lead midway through the second half on a three-pointer by Julien Lewis; it had a suddenness to it, the way the first 20-plus minutes had played out, the Bulldogs getting outshot and thoroughly outrebounded.

But when threatened, the Utes had answers, with or without 7-foot center Jakob Poeltl on the floor. Utah countered with a run of its own, and the Bulldogs eventually caved, losing 80-69 at Pepsi Center.

Before exiting the floor, Fresno State senior Marvelle Harris – who leaves as the all-time scorer in school history – brought the Bulldogs together at mid-court.

“I just told them, ‘We came a long way. I’m proud of you guys, proud that I was a part of this team,’ ” Harris said. “I told them, ‘You guys are my brothers, and we’re going to be family forever. I know we didn’t get done what we wanted to, but I couldn’t be prouder of you guys. You guys made this a great senior year.’ ”

His words resonated.

“Most people didn’t think we would make it here. Most people didn’t think we would win the Mountain West championship. Most people didn’t think we would compete with Utah,” forward Karachi Edo said.

“We knew, anybody in that locker room from the start of this season knew, that we could compete with any team that was put in front of us. I believe the next year’s team that is coming back, they know they can compete with anybody,” said Edo, himself included, a junior.

Fresno State, which ended its season 25-10 and with a Mountain West Conference tournament title, last won a NCAA Tournament game in that 2001 season and has two in all: Cal in the South Regional in 2001 and West Virginia in the West Regional in 1982.

This time the Bulldogs just gave away too much against a team that finished second in the Pac-12 and was a No. 3 seed to the Bulldogs’ No. 14, playing well short of their best through the first half. Fresno State in the opening 20 minutes hit just 9 of 25 shots (36 percent) and had eight turnovers – and the Bulldogs had eight or fewer turnovers in six of their past eight games coming in.

“We didn’t make decisive plays. We didn’t make good decision-making plays in the first half,” coach Rodney Terry said.

“In these types of games, you can’t give away 20 minutes,” said Harris, who finished with 24 points, six assists and four rebounds. “That’s what we did – we gave away 20 minutes in the first half. We fought our way back in the second half, but it wasn’t enough.”

After the three by Lewis with 10:32 to go, Utah (27-8) went on a 7-0 run that eventually grew to 19-2. And it was more the pieces spinning around Poeltl, who had 16 points and 18 rebounds, that hurt Fresno State than the 7-foot sophomore.

Lorenzo Bonam started the run with a jumper, which was followed by a layup from Kyle Kuzma and a three from Jordan Loveridge.

Cezar Guerrero stopped that run with a jump shot, but then the Utes were gone.

Bonam hit a three, Loveridge hit a three, Brandon Taylor was fouled on a drive and hit two free throws. The Bulldogs, who were thoroughly beaten on the boards, outrebounded 38-15, left too many shooters open and couldn’t come up with a counter.

The Utes hit 13 of 20 shots in that second half (65 percent), 27 of 50 in the game.

“We try to play that way,” Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “We don’t take bad shots, probably my pet peeve as a coach, and my guys have been playing together for a while.

“They did a great job moving the ball, and when we don’t turn it over that’s the key. We get high-percentage shots. We get a lot of assists. Shot ourselves in the foot a little bit with turnovers. I’m really proud of the guys. They took the lead. We managed to come back on a resilient team.”

Terry would take that.

“I’m proud of this group. We had a lot of adversity we fought through throughout the course of the season – whether it was injuries, whether we had guys that we had to take off the floor for whatever reason,” Terry said.

“We continued to battle. We continued to improve. More importantly our guys really played for each other – didn’t play for themselves. That’s the thing I’m most proud of. We didn’t have a selfish thing. We had a team that was about winning, about the tomorrow. They really enjoyed being around each other. That’s the thing, again, when they have the chance to reflect back over the years, they’ll take a lot of pride. We were really a team; we enjoyed being around each other. We were able to accomplish things that haven’t been accomplished at Fresno in a long time.”

Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada

UTAH 80, FRESNO STATE 69

FRESNO STATE

Min

FGM-A

FTM-A

OR-TR

A

PF

PT

Lewis

33

5-11

2-2

0-2

0

3

14

Edo

33

7-9

0-0

1-3

0

4

14

Guerrero

24

1-4

0-0

0-1

1

2

2

Russo

22

1-4

1-2

0-1

1

2

3

Harris

38

8-16

5-5

1-4

6

2

24

Watson

23

4-7

1-1

2-2

0

4

11

Taylor

17

0-1

1-2

0-1

0

2

1

Ellison III

3

0-0

0-0

0-0

0

1

0

Carter II

7

0-1

0-0

0-0

0

3

0

Totals

200

26-53

10-12

5-15

8

23

69

Percentages: FG .491, FT .833. 3-Point Goals: 7-18, .389 (Harris 3-7, Watson 2-2, Lewis 2-5, Russo 0-1, Taylor 0-1, Guerrero 0-2). Team Rebounds: 1. Blocked Shots: 3 (Edo 3). Turnovers: 14 (Russo 4, Guerrero 3, Harris 3, Edo 2, Taylor, Watson). Steals: 15 (Russo 6, Harris 2, Guerrero 2, Edo 2, Watson, Taylor, Lewis). Technical Fouls: None.

UTAH

Min

FGM-A

FTM-A

OR-TR

A

PF

PT

Taylor

33

4-8

7-7

0-1

6

3

16

Bonam

38

7-10

2-2

2-4

3

2

17

Loveridge

36

4-9

4-4

0-3

1

1

16

Kuzma

27

3-5

0-0

0-2

1

2

6

Poeltl

36

5-11

6-9

9-18

4

1

16

Chapman

13

2-3

0-0

1-2

1

1

4

Wright

0

0-0

0-0

0-0

0

0

0

Tucker

13

1-3

0-0

0-1

0

0

3

Reyes

4

1-1

0-0

1-3

0

1

2

Bealer

0

0-0

0-0

0-1

0

0

0

Totals

200

27-50

19-22

15-38

16

11

80

Percentages: FG .540, FT .864. 3-Point Goals: 7-18, .389 (Loveridge 4-8, Tucker 1-2, Bonam 1-2, Taylor 1-5, Kuzma 0-1). Team Rebounds: 3. Blocked Shots: 1 (Bonam). Turnovers: 20 (Bonam 5, Loveridge 4, Poeltl 4, Kuzma 3, Taylor 2, Chapman). Steals: 11 (Taylor 4, Loveridge 3, Poeltl, Chapman, Bonam, Reyes). Technical Fouls: None.

Fresno State

22

47

69

Utah

33

47

80

A—NA. Officials—Tom Eades, Bret Smith, Vladimir Voyard-Tadal.

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