A 38-20 deficit at the half was made to seem longer than it really was for Fresno State and its 8,103 fans on Saturday night.
For starters, Save Mart Center malfunctions caused a first-half delay. Repairs made to the west basket, board and rim stopped the game in the first half – twice.
But it was rebounding – 40 boards in total, 22 in the first and 12 on the offensive side – that extended the Ram’s possessions, gave them second chances to score and allowed them to control the pace of the first half in the Bulldogs’ 74-63 home loss.
Colorado State, which came into the game ranked fourth in rebounding (42.6 per game) among the nation’s Division I schools, outrebounded Fresno State 40-21 in a game the Rams led all throughout in the second half.
“They’re big plays, they’re difference-makers,” coach Rodney Terry said in reference to Colorado State’s timely rebounds.
“We knew going into this game that as good as Colorado State’s been this year, they’ve been excellent at the 50-50 balls… That’s a big part of what they do.”
Tyler Johnson’s 23 points led the game. Johnson scored 12 of Fresno State’s first 14 points and made 7-of-16 from the field.
The Bulldogs made 20-of-52 (38.5 percent) from the field with an 8-of-25 showing in the first half.
But in this Mountain West Conference matchup, Colorado State guarded the paint against a physical Fresno State defense and went on a 20-6 scoring run in the final seven minutes of the first half.
Fresno State, with a first-half home crowd lacking jubilation, sparked a revival on offense.
Allen Huddleston – who scored a career-high 20 off the bench in a loss to Boise State – knocked down a 3, lobbed a floater on the ensuing possession, and Marvelle Harris followed with a layup 30 seconds later.
All of which helped pull Fresno State within five, rejuvenated a home crowd and gave the Bulldogs, down 44-39, to mount the comeback with 13:16 left.
Harris and Huddleston each made 15 points, with Harris’ all coming in the second half.
It might have been too, little too late.
“You can’t give 20 minutes away,” Terry said in reference to the first half. “We got great looks against a really good defensive team, probably the best defensive team we’ve played all year.
“You have to have execution, and you have to play for 40 minutes. We’ve only done that one time in league play.”
Fresno State rotated Kevin Foster and freshmen Robert Upshaw and Tanner Giddings to guard Colorado State’s Colton Iverson, a 6-foot-10 senior. Iverson finished with 11 points – six of them off uncontested dunks – and a game-high 13 rebounds.
Colorado State (16-4, 3-2 MWC) made 29-of-34 of its free throws, and pulled away in the final minutes through Dorian Green, who scored 10 of his 17 points in the final three minutes.
Fresno State dropped to 1-5 in conference play and 7-12 overall. The Bulldogs face Air Force on the road on Wednesday.
“We’re never discouraged. We understand that this is a really tough league,” said Johnson, Fresno State’s leading scorer who is averaging 11.9 points per game.
“It’s kind of disappointing that we’ve been so close in all these games, but our guys are never going to hold on to these losses.
“If we keep playing the way we’re supposed to be playing, eventually we’re going to be on the upside of these games.”