Bulldogs shortcomings all exposed in falling short of MW title game
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
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.