The Fresno State Bulldogs and New Mexico Lobos split their previous two meetings, with the home team winning both games.
The Lobos won 78-73 in the first matchup, which was the conference opener for both squads. New Mexico’s duo of star players Tim Williams and Elijah Brown scored 19 and 18 points respectively to lead the team to victory. All five Fresno State starters scored in double digits, but the Bulldogs still fell short. On paper, the two teams were evenly matched in nearly every category except for free throws. The Lobos went to the free-throw line 34 times and cashed in on 29 makes. Fresno State, meanwhile, made only 7 of 12 attempts.
New Mexico returned to the Save Mart Center in February, but without forward Williams. The Bulldogs, meanwhile, were without starter Karachi Edo. After an even first half, Fresno State pulled away with a 71-61 victory. Bulldog guards Jaron Hopkins and Deshon Taylor both had 15 points as the series was evened 1-1. The stat sheet, again, was fairly even, but with this time the Bulldogs getting twice as many free throws as the Lobos.
Who to watch
- New Mexico guard Elijah Brown earned an All-Mountain West Second-Team selection for another impressive season in his junior campaign. The transfer from Butler has been a reliable for about 20 points per game over his last two seasons for the Lobos. Brown comes into Thursday’s game in tournament form, coming off a 29-point outing against San Diego State.
However, the Bulldogs have been a tough matchup for Brown this year. Although he scored 19 points in the first matchup, he was only 2-for-10 from the field with 14 points on free throws. With Williams out in the second match, Fresno State focused on Brown even harder and limited him to 11 points on 4-for-12 shooting.
- Despite missing seven games, New Mexico forward Tim Williams landed an All-Mountain West Third-Team selection. In four years, split between Samford and New Mexico, he has averaged no worse than 14.2 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. Williams has played only one game since his injury, a 10-point outing against SDSU. Though he played 31 minutes in that appearance, he may not be 100 percent.
Williams had a solid game in his one game versus the Bulldogs - 18 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists. He was absent in the second meeting due to injury.
Deshon Taylor did not begin his ascent to an All-Mountain West Third-Team selection type of player until the second time the Bulldogs and Lobos met. His 15 points against New Mexico the second time around tied for his lowest outing in his 13-game stretch as a starter. In that span, he has averaged largely better numbers than Marvelle Harris, who led the Bulldogs to a tournament championship a year ago.
Jaron Hopkins has also been a force in the same 13-game stretch. He scored in double digits in 12 of the last 13 games, doing so at a 51 percent clip from the field.
- New Mexico forward Sam Logwood - Logwood stepped into a big role for New Mexico with Tim Williams sidelined. He was even the Lobos’ top scorer in their loss to Fresno State at 14 points. He comes off of a six-point game, however - the team’s first with Williams back in the lineup.
- Fresno State forward Paul Watson - The senior Bulldog has been inconsistent on the scoreboard as of late and comes off of a one-point game in the season finale. Watson is more than capable of stringing together big games for the ‘Dogs in the tournament.
- Fresno State forward Karachi Edo - Edo is questionable to play, but his presence would provide an impact in this quarterfinal match. He has missed the last six games due to injury, but played one of his better games of the season at New Mexico with 15 points and 6 rebounds.
What’s on the line
The winner of Thursday’s afternoon game earns a trip to the Mountain West Tournament semifinals and is likely to face top-seeded Nevada on Friday. At 17-13, a New Mexico loss would likely be the end of the road for their two senior leaders. For Fresno State, a victory would get the ‘Dogs to 20 wins on the season and help their cause at a possible NIT appearance if they fail to cut down the nets in Las Vegas once again.