Bull­dogs short­com­ings all ex­posed in fall­ing short of MW ti­tle game

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Sports - BY ROBERT KUWADA [email protected]­nobee.com Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada

Of all the mo­ments for Fresno State’s soft spots, weak­nesses and things that gave the Bull­dogs even the slight­est of trou­bles dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son to get ex­posed, it came when they were just one win from reach­ing the Moun­tain West Tour­na­ment cham­pi­onship.

No. 3 seed Fresno State trailed through­out against No. 2 Utah State and was run out of the Thomas & Mack Cen­ter in the first half, left be­hind by 23 points at the break be­fore fall­ing 85-60 in the semi­fi­nals Fri­day night.

The sur­pris­ing blowout came against an Ag­gies team the Bull­dogs twice played close dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son – a 78-77 win at Utah State’s Dee Glen Smith Spec­trum and an 82-81 loss at the Save Mart Cen­ter.

Fresno State had not lost by more than 10 points all sea­son.

“We just didn’t show up to play,” guard Noah Black­well said. “That’s it.”

Rather than pres­sure the Ag­gies up the floor, the Bull­dogs let them loose in the half­court and Utah State sliced them up. The Ag­gies had 13 as­sists on their first 19 bas­kets, mov­ing the ball to get barely-con­tested shots in hit­ting 19 of 36 and 8 of 18 from the 3-point line.

Utah State also had a 25-14 re­bound­ing ad­van­tage and eight of­fen­sive re­bounds, turn­ing those sec­ond chances into 10 of its 50 first-half points.

BAD BULL­DOG SHOOT­ING

Fresno State (23-9) had few answers at the of­fen­sive end, hit­ting just 11 of 31 shots in the first half (35.5 per­cent) and 3 of 15 from three (20 per­cent).

Brax­ton Hug­gins, who had been the Bull­dogs’ top scorer most of the sea­son, shot 2 of 8 in the first half.

Hug­gins al­ready was com­ing off a tough game Thurs­day af­ter shoot­ing 0 of 11 in the Bull­dogs’ quar­ter­fi­nal vic­tory over Air Force.

Deshon Tay­lor, sec­ond on the team in scor­ing dur­ing the sea­son, shot 1 of 8 in the first half.

The Bull­dogs brought some of that pres­sure at the start of the sec­ond half, but were un­able to make much of a dent. The Ag­gies’ lead bal­looned to as many as 35 points.

Fresno State shot 40.4 per­cent for the game, in­clud­ing a sea­son-worst 5 of 26 (19.2 per­cent) from the 3-point line.

In com­par­i­son, the Bull­dogs drained an av­er­age of 10.7 shots be­hind the 3-point line and shot a Moun­tain West-best 38.1 per­cent be­hind the arc.

GRIMES SCOR­ING LEADER

Nate Grimes led the Bull­dogs with 21 points.

But Hug­gins fin­ished 5 of 15 for 11 points, and Tay­lor was 2 of 13 in scor­ing six points. The Bull­dogs’ top two scor­ers were a com­bined 1 of 12 from the 3-point line.

The four 3-point­ers matched a sea­son-low for a team that was ninth in the na­tion in mak­ing 3s, while gen­er­at­ing 42.4 per­cent of its scor­ing from the 3-point line. The last time the Bull­dogs made only four 3point­ers was last month when they shot 4 of 20 in an 82-70 win against New Mex­ico at the Save Mart Cen­ter.

But in the Moun­tain West semi­fi­nal, they went down a dozen dif­fer­ent ways.

Utah State (27-6) sim­ply ex­e­cuted at a much higher level at both ends of the floor.

“Buz­z­saw in the first half,” Bull­dogs coach Justin Hut­son said. “You know, we didn’t play any­thing like we played the pre­vi­ous two times we played them, where we had to re­ally move the ball. They’re a very good de­fen­sive team so you’ve got to make mul­ti­ple pen­e­tra­tions and mul­ti­ple kick-outs and go in­side out.

“I think we rushed it a lit­tle bit and they made us pay. When we ac­tu­ally did get a stop, they got the re­bound in the first half. They’re a very good re­bound­ing team and we didn’t box out. It steam­rolled from there.”

‘‘ WE JUST DIDN’T SHOW UP TO PLAY. THAT’S IT. Noah Black­well, Fresno State guard

ISAAC BREKKEN AP

Fresno State’s Deshon Tay­lor, left, and Utah State’s Sam Mer­rill scram­ble for a loose ball dur­ing the first half of their game in the Moun­tain West Con­fer­ence tour­na­ment Fri­day at the Thomas & Mack Cen­ter in Las Ve­gas.

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