When we look back in the few months, what happened to the Fresno State men’s basketball team Saturday afternoon at Save Mart Center may barely merit mention.
Or it may have been the early-warning system that detects oncoming turbulence.
That’ll depend on what transpires during the 18-game Mountain West schedule and how the Bulldogs fare in the conference tournament. Which is the great thing about college hoops. Teams can always play their way in.
Likewise, teams can always play their way out. Which is exactly what Fresno State managed to do in the second half of a costly 68-61 loss to Oregon.
Costly, because the Bulldogs have played a weak nonconference schedule according to every metric out there and just squandered the best chance to polish their postseason résumé.
Costly, because it’s doubtful they’ll have another opportunity to send home happy a crowd so large and enthusiastic – a legitimate throng of 9,225.
"Right now, it is about us focusing on getting better throughout the course of this season,” coach Rodney Terry insisted afterward. “It is a long season.”
He’s right, but there is damage here that can’t easily be undone.
Fresno State’s 9-3 record has been woven from some pretty flimsy tapestry. It contains zero wins against teams rated inside the top 100 by KenPom.com and only one (Cal State Bakersfield) against the top 200.
Essentially, the Bulldogs have fattened up on cupcakes while twice getting their noses bloodied by prime rib. Arkansas is ranked No. 27 by KenPom, Oregon 47.
What does that mean when Nevada and its No. 36 KenPom ranking roll into town Dec. 27 for the Mountain West opener?
It means Fresno State has plenty of work to do till then. While hoping senior guard Jaron Hopkins can return from a back injury.
The Bulldogs could’ve used Hopkins in the second half against Oregon. They desperately needed his energy when things went listless.
You could definitely sense a buzz, and not just from the folks who warmed up across the street at Doghouse or Mad Duck.
Save Mart Center has been as lively as a mausoleum this season, but Saturday the Cement Box on Shaw roared to life. You could definitely sense a buzz, and not just from the folks who warmed up across the street at Doghouse or Mad Duck.
In the first half, Fresno State looked every bit the equal of an Oregon squad that lost all five starters from last year’s Final Four team and replaced them with youngsters, including 6-9 freshman Kenny Wooten of Manteca, and familiar foe Elijah Brown, a graduate transfer from New Mexico.
The Bulldogs went to big man Bryson Williams early, and the emerging sophomore responded with buckets and trips to the line. Jahmel Taylor and Sam Bittner swished 3-pointers. Deshon Taylor hit a perimeter jumper and got to the free-throw line on drives. The formula produced a 10-point halftime lead.
Things changed when Ducks coach Dana Altman inserted Wooten into the starting lineup to start the second half. The substitution immediately produced a turnover and changed the dynamic in the paint.
Oregon quickly trimmed Fresno State’s lead to four, only to be staved off by back-to-back Jahmel Taylor 3-pointers and a short jumper by Williams that made the score 51-42 with 12:15 remaining.
Little did anyone know the Bulldogs would go the next 12 minutes, 13 seconds without a field goal as Oregon went on a 22-1 run.
So what happened? It appeared like Fresno State got worn down, resulting in ragged offensive possessions. Oregon got its hands on lazy passes and converted them into easy transition buckets. The 3-pointers stopped falling. And with Wooten patrolling the middle, any semblance of an inside game disappeared.
“We said going into this game that we could not have turnovers that led to points on the other end,” Terry said. “It really deflates things in terms of what we are trying to get done on both ends of the floor. Then, we started letting our offense affect our guarding. We didn't guard as hard as we needed to in order to get stops.”
22-1 Oregon second-half scoring run
This was hardly a fatal loss for Fresno State. After all, it’s not even 2018. But you only get one chance to make a first impression.
For most fans in attendance, it was the first time they’d seen these Bulldogs all season. And although the atmosphere was fun and just about everyone went home with a Paul George T-shirt, they still went home disappointed.
If we’ve learned anything about Terry-coached teams, it’s that they tend to improve as we get closer to March.
But instead of a December to remember, Fresno State gave its home crowd utterly forgettable.