Juan Villa / The Collegian
True freshman turns heads in collegiate debut for Fresno State with a close victory over FPU
By George, Fresno State basketball has a new scoring machine that brought a fresh wave of excitement to the Save Mart Center Wednesday night.
Playing in his first collegiate exhibition game, freshman guard Paul George electrified the crowd of 8,657 fans with steals and one-handed dunks en route to 28 points in the Bulldogsâ€™ 97-88 victory against Fresno Pacific.
â€œI got Paul going and put him into a position where he can score for us,â€ coach Steve Cleveland said. â€œI know Paul George is going to be a good player. Heâ€™s not going to score 28 points every night, but Paul knows I made a commitment to him, that if you come here, Iâ€™m going to play you, and weâ€™re going to get better together.â€
The freshman from Lancaster admitted he had some jitters before his first preseason college game against the Sunbirds.
â€œI was definitely nervous,â€ George said. â€œBut thereâ€™s no time to get nervous especially for a freshman. My coach and my teammates put me in a position where I can feel comfortable with the ball. Every coach has given me confidence to learn from this game. I have great coaches.â€
One exceptional highlight from George was a steal in the Sunbirdsâ€™ backcourt, where he sprinted untouched to the hoop and finished with a one-handed slam dunk, giving the â€™Dogs an 11-0 run with under five minutes of play in the first half.
George received stiff competition from the Sunbird players he was helping guard: James Lewis and former Bulldog Marcus West.
â€œIt was definitely a challenge, especially guarding two good players,â€ George said. â€œIt was definitely an experience. I learned a lot from it.â€
Lewis finished the night with 15 points for Fresno Pacific. West torched his former team with a game-high 33 points, which included eight three-pointers.
Juan Villa / The Collegian
Cleveland stressed the importance of his young team to learn quickly during the game, especially George and the other freshmen players.
â€œAt halftime, we thought about changing the matchups,â€ Cleveland said. â€œWe just said to our team youâ€™re going to have to figure out how to guard good players.â€
Senior Dwight Oâ€™Neil was one of the players trying to slow down Marcus West along with George and another freshman Mychal Ladd.
â€œI put Dwight on Marcus and it gave us a little bit of breathing room,â€ Cleveland said. â€œI thought that Ladd and Paul did a better job in the second half. That team (Fresno Pacific) played with great confidence. Thatâ€™s a good basketball team.â€
Oâ€™Neil is the only senior on the roster this season. But he seems content with his role, especially after Wednesday night.
â€œIn practice I have to be playmaker,â€ Oâ€™Neil said. â€œWe got young guys who sometimes arenâ€™t in the right position or something breaks down and itâ€™s my job to make something happen. Iâ€™m comfortable with it.â€
Oâ€™Neil finished with 16 points and a game-high seven assists. He watched the rest of the game from the sidelines after his fifth foul late in the second half.
â€œDwight is a very competitive young man, and he lost his composure a little bit, and heâ€™ll get better,â€ Cleveland said. â€œBut he did some good things. I was pleased with Dwightâ€™s ability to take care of the ball.â€
Cleveland was also impressed with Oâ€™Neilâ€™s ability to share the ball, and his teamâ€™s ability to finish off its opponent.
â€œWe have people that are very capable of scoring. With Dwight, heâ€™s going to have to give up his scoring a little bit,â€ Cleveland said. â€œI think the thing Iâ€™m proudest of with this group is they found a way to win the game. Defensively, we werenâ€™t very good but we found a way to win the game, and we were very unselfish with the ball.â€