FRESNO - Fresno State hands rival San Jose State its twelfth loss of the season with a 59-48 victory over the Spartans. The Bulldogs take a commanding two and a half game lead headed into the second half of WAC Regular Season play and remain a perfect 12-0 at home on the season.
On a special night at Selland Arena, the Bulldogs played a less than inspired game yet beat their long-time rival, 59-48, in front of their second consecutive sold out crowd.
Fresno State legendary coach Boyd Grant, in town for a ceremony honoring his accomplishments and the accomplishments of the 1981-82 and 1982-83 Bulldog teams, watched as San Jose State played a style of basketball even he found repulsive. Once known for playing a slow down, fundamentally sound style of basketball described by former UC Irvine coach Billy Mulligan as "vomit basketball," Coach Grant found the style of play ridiculous and commented that even when his teams were controlling the tempo of a game they still looked to attack the basket.
Sounding disappointed in what he saw from San Jose State, Coach Grant commented to Ray Lopes that he had "done exactly what he needed to do to win the game."
Game might be an overstatement for what San Jose tried to do!
The Bulldogs (15-3, 8-1), faced an opponent who was obviously afraid and showed great patience while watching a ridiculous game plan unfold. Fresno State allowed the Spartans (4-12, 1-6) to bring the ball across the time line and literally stop at half court and stand unguarded before running their anemic offensive sets with approximately 18 seconds remaining on the 35-second shot clock.
Standing and doing nothing was never an option even for Coach Grant's teams and it certainly shouldn't be considered basketball.
"They did what they felt they had to do to win the game," commented Ray Lopes in his post-game news conference.
"Win the game?"
As time wore on, the Spartans were able to keep the game relatively close but even as time began to run short and the score closed within two points, nobody in the arena feared the Bulldogs would come up on the wrong side of the win-loss column.
With no consistent offensive threat and no player taller than 6'-5" playing significant minutes, the Spartans had to rely on off-balanced jumpers and runners in the lane to score.
With inconsistent shot attempts like these to rely on, victory was never an option for the outmanned Spartans.
"They did what they felt they had to do to win the game."
Was it coach? The comment is understandable but was this really the best way for a smaller, quicker team to beat a bigger team? Last Saturday, the Spartans startled the WAC with a victory over Hawai'i in front of a season-high 1,700 fans in San Jose. Phil Johnson utilized a pressure defense, up-tempo style of play to upset the Warriors who have a slightly less athletic team than the Bulldogs.
In last night's game, the Spartans were able to force the Bulldogs into 24 turnovers without really applying any consistent defensive pressure. When they did, the received the ball back courtesy of a Bulldog errant pass or violation. San Jose State coach Phil Johnson never made any significant adjustments to his game plan and his team suffered from his lack of creativity.
With the Spartans undersized team, Fresno State's Hiram Fuller took full advantage. Scoring 15 points and grabbing 13 rebounds, Fuller was a man among boys. At one point in the first half, Fuller scored seven unanswered points in the paint as several Spartans stood helplessly by.
Fuller made seven of his eight shot attempts and had he had more touches on the ball, could have scored 30 points with little effort over the smaller Spartans.
Damon Jackson added 12 points for the Bulldogs on an average shooting night as he hit on only three of his eleven shot attempts. No other Bulldog scored in double figures but Renaldo Major added another strong performance to his recent streak of impressive games with 8 points and 8 rebounds. Major has become a needed sparkplug for the Bulldogs off the bench. Jon Woods also added 8 points and grabbed 5 rebounds for Fresno State.
Noel Felix suffered through another disappointing game. After showing renewed promise early in the season, Felix has been in a downward spiral interrupted only by his defensive effort against Hawai'i on Thursday night. Felix was only able to complete one of his eight shot attempts and missed on his only free throw attempt.
He once again found himself in foul trouble and could only manage four rebounds and two points in just 23 minutes of play. Ray Lopes needs to reenergize Felix if his team is going to be successful through the remainder of conference play and into the post season.
But the night belonged to the Bulldogs anyway.
The largest discrepancy in the game occurred on the boards. Fresno State more than doubled San Jose State's efforts on the glass, outrebounding the Spartans 43-21. Only Antonio Lawrence and Keith West could manage more than two rebounds for the Spartans, grabbing six and five respectively.
This was supposed to be a homecoming of sorts for the freshman Lawrence. Having finished his high school career at Fresno's San Joaquin Memorial High School and at one time was considered to be one of the best high school players in the country; many believed Lawrence to be a lock for the Bulldogs.
However, after playing recruiting games with not only Fresno State but also with Georgia and Mississippi State, Lawrence found himself without a scholarship offer on signing day and had to resort to one of the perennial doormats of division one basketball in San Jose State. It's quite a decent for a player who had thoughts of jumping straight to the NBA from high school.
Egos can be a terrible thing!
Lawrence now plays in a system that stifles his athletic ability and is dropping him off the radar faster than a John Denver piloted plane. Connecting on only four of his twelve shot attempts and missing both of his free throw attempts, Lawrence was never really a factor in the game.
Unfortunately, no Spartan was thanks to the silly game plan of their coach who once led a team with a first round NBA draft pick to a sub .500 record. With a smaller, quicker lineup, Johnson allowed his team to play directly into the hands of a well disciplined Fresno State basketball team.
In years past, this type of game may have worked against the less disciplined teams of Jerry Tarkanian but a new sheriff is in town and he effectively managed his team to an easy victory.
Johnson failed to recognize the difference!
The Bulldogs now head to Reno to take on Trent Johnson's resurgent Wolfpack squad. The Wolfpack (10-8, 5-3), who struggled through some early season disappointments, now find themselves in second place in the WAC after handing Hawai'i (10-5, 4-4) its third straight loss in conference play and Tulsa (11-5, 4-3) was upended on their home court by Southern Methodist (9-8, 4-3).
The loss all but eliminates the Warriors from WAC Regular Season contention and forces Tulsa to beat Hawai'i both at home and on the island to give them a shot at the WAC conference title. Nevada-Reno is now the largest obstacle standing between Fresno State and a conference title and their first meeting will occur next Saturday night.
The Bulldogs remain in the driver's seat and barring a disastrous end to the season, have positioned themselves for the conference regular season championship. Parity has ruled among the WAC legions and as long as the Bulldogs can continue to take care of business, they should come out on top.