Fresno State, the only team to sweep top-seeded Nevada in the regular season, appeared to be on its way to a repeat trip to the Mountain West Tournament Finals - However, the Mountain West regular season champions saved their best 20 minutes for when it mattered most.
The Bulldogs maintained a 40-31 lead with 15:47 remaining when baskets began to rain down on Nevada’s end. Over the next seven minutes the Wolf Pack made six 3-pointers in part of a 25-point barrage.
Meanwhile, Fresno State sent two of their best performers on the night to the bench - Bryson Williams due to a third foul and Deshon Taylor due to a cramp. The Bulldogs’ lost all offensive rhythm and were only able to match Nevada’s 25 points with two of their own. A 40-31 lead flipped into a 56-42 deficit in the blink of an eye.
“I thought we got off to a great start,” Fresno State head coach Rodney Terry said. “In the second half, we probably didn’t play one of our better halves of the year. A lot of things were attributed to us not taking care of the basketball - self-inflicted things in terms of giving them opportunities to build momentum”
Added Fresno State forward Paul Watson, “We really didn’t bring the same defensive intensity that we did in the first half to the second. We weren’t able to sustain the run that they made. That’s definitely what hurt us."
In all, the Wolf Pack poured in 62 points in the second half alone. After making just 23 percent of their shots in the first half, the Wolf Pack made 79 percent in the second half, including 8-for-10 from 3-point range. They also added 16 of 23 free throws.
Said Nevada Head Coach Eric Musselman, “We played our worst first half since we’ve been together and we probably played our best second half since we’ve been together.”
The spectacular shooting performance erased a solid first half by the Bulldogs, led by senior forward Paul Watson. Watson scored seven of the team’s first nine points and later made a 3-pointer to close the half, giving the Bulldogs a double-digit lead at halftime.
Watson finished with 19 points. Freshman forward Bryson Williams also helped lead with 16 points and 8 rebounds. Deshon Taylor had a team-high 21 points, though the majority of which came in the team’s late-game comeback efforts.
Nevada guard Marcus Marshall and forward Cameron Oliver finished with 28 and 27 points respectively. The pair had five 3-pointers apiece.
Said Marshall, “Fresno (State) was a team that we really wanted to beat.”
Fresno State concludes its season with a 20-12 record, which does not have the Bulldogs in the picture to get back to the big dance. The team is expected to play in another postseason tournament, however. Fresno State will hope for an invite to the NIT, which is selected on Sunday at 5:30 p.m. PT.
If the Bulldogs are not selected with an at-large invite, they could also wind up in another postseason tournament. The program played in the CBI Tournament in 2014.
“We’ve got a good young team coming back,” Terry said. “We’re going to be really good again next year. I’m excited about how we’re able to finish out the season with our older players … Our young guys have emerged as well and I think having an opportunity to play in a postseason where it’s one-and-done gives them more growth.”
- Earlier on Friday, the Fresno State women's team fell in the Mountain West Tournament Championship game to Boise State, 66-53. View the highlights below: