For the fifth straight game, the Fresno State Bulldogs went into the final minutes of Saturday’s contest with the game on the line. For the fourth time in those five games, the Bulldogs came out on top even with key players missing.
Though Fresno State would hold the lead for over 35 minutes, the Utah State Aggies narrowed the score to 67-65 with 1:38 to go. The Bulldogs quickly stomped out the flames with a made jumper and a breakaway layup both by Cullen Russo to push the lead back to six and ultimately close the game.
“This time of year that’s what you’re going to have,” Fresno State Head Coach Rodney Terry said. “At this time of year, this is what you’re in for. You’re going to play one possession games whether you’re home or on the road.”
After trailing 11-8 to open the game, Marvelle Harris scored a 3-pointer, the first of his game-high 22 points, that sparked a 9-0 run and a lead that the ‘Dogs never forfeited.
Karachi Edo returned to the lineup for the Bulldogs after missing the last three games with a wrist injury, but the team still lacked two members of its frontcourt. The scrappy team forced nine turnovers in the first half for 13 points while only turning it over twice themselves. Even though the Aggies made 55 percent of their first-half shots and added 11 of 16 free throws, the Bulldogs built a 44-37 halftime lead.
The Bulldogs came out cold in the second half, failing to score for over four minutes while the Aggies closed the deficit to three. The Aggies hung within five points for the next seven minutes, but a 7-0 run on two pairs of Marvelle Harris free throws and a Cezar Guerrero 3-pointer gave the Bulldogs a 62-54 lead going into the final seven minutes.
Another Guerrero 3-pointer with 5:04 remaining kept the lead at eight, but Fresno State missed its next five shots and a free throw attempt. Utah State guard Chris Smith’s layup capped six straight points for the Aggies as they closed the score to 67-65 going into the final 90 second stretch.
Harris led the ‘Dogs with 22 points and 5 assists, Russo had 16 points and 5 rebounds and Guerrero added 14 points with four 3-pointers along with 6 rebounds. Edo scored 10 points and had 2 blocks in his return to the court, but Fresno State was still without Paul Watson and Torren Jones who watched from the bench in street clothes on Saturday.
“We wanted to ease him back onto the floor,” Terry said of Edo. “We had some other guys step up and perform well in his absence, so we brought him in slowly. I thought he did a really good job for us today.”
Despite injuries, the Bulldogs have worked their way to a second place spot in the Mountain West standings and are close to securing one of the five first-round byes in the Mountain West Tournament.
“In a way, a lot of guys have stepped up and showed us that they are capable of doing things to help out the team,” Harris said. “By their absence, I think it has helped a lot of guys build confidence and, overall, has made us a better team.”
“We’ve fought through adversity,” Terry added. “We have really bought into the ‘next man up’ mentality.”
Fresno State next hosts Air Force (14-14, 5-10) on Wednesday at 7 p.m. The Bulldogs defeated the Falcons 56-55 in Colorado Springs earlier this season. AFA is fresh off of an upset versus New Mexico.