Fresno State guard Tyler Johnson shoots against Air Force forward DeLovell Earls during the Bulldogs’ 61-59 victory Wednesday night. Photo by Khlarissa Agee/The Collegian
LAS VEGAS–The Fresno State men’s basketball team (17-15, 9-9 Mountain West Conference) came back in the final five minutes of the game to beat the Air Force Falcons (12-18, 6-12 MWC) 61-59 in the opening round of the Mountain West Tournament Wednesday afternoon at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.
The Bulldogs nearly saw their season come to an end, but their seniors led them to a comeback from a 15-point deficit with six minutes left. Consecutive layups from Allen Huddleston cut the Falcons’ lead to 5 and two 3’s from guard Tyler Johnson in the final two minutes tied up the contest at 59 apiece.
Two free throws from Alex Davis with 12 seconds left and one final defensive stop sealed the game for the ‘Dogs as time expired.
Both teams started off sluggish as they failed to convert and find consistency on the offensive end of the court. The Bulldogs started off shooting just 1 for 13 for seven points while the Falcons only posted 10 points in the first 10 minutes of the game.
“It was an extremely tough ballgame,” said Fresno State head coach Rodney Terry. “[Falcons coach] Dave [Pilipovich] has done a great job all year with his group.
“We’ve been fortunate enough the first two times we played those guys — we shot the ball extremely well. We didn’t do that today particularly well, but we had to dig really deep down the stretch there and our guys hung tough and we found a way at the end.”
The Bulldogs credit their comeback to the steals they got due to their full-court pressure they applied late in the game.
“We turned up the intensity,” said Fresno State senior Tyler Johnson. “Fortunately we were able to get a couple steals and capitalize on them. That was the biggest thing.
“We got the steals and we were able to finish them and make plays and put points on the board.”
Johnson, who earned second-team All-Mountain West honors, led the team with 19 points on 6 of 12 shooting from the field and 3 of 4 from behind the arc. He and fellow senior Allen Huddleston looked at each other and nodded their heads, letting each other know that this is “not the way they want to go out.”
“I just think that we played very very hard,” Huddleston said. “I’m very proud of my teammates and the guys that we have. Everyone just kept fighting, and there was never a point where we gave up. I’m just really proud of everyone that contributed tonight and our entire team and staff.”
Huddleston had 15 points in his 31 minutes on the court.
Air Force’s Tre’ Coggins recorded a game-high 20 points in the loss and guard Max Yon added 15.
“I feel so bad for our cadet-athletes,” Pilipovich said. “They gave everything they had and we just came up a little bit short.”
The ‘Dogs will take on the No. 2 seed New Mexico Lobos in the semifinals of the conference tournament Thursday night at the Thomas & Mack Center.