As Fresno State sophomore guard Cezar Guerrero dribbled the ball while time expired, his coach, Rodney Terry, grinned.
The men’s basketball team made it to the final four.
Senior guard Tyler Johnson scored 23 points to lift the Bulldogs past Princeton 72-56 in the quarterfinals of the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) Monday night at the Save Mart Center.
In their first postseason appearance since 2007, the Bulldogs join Illinois State, Siena College and Old Dominion as the final teams left in the CBI Tournament.
“We had great energy tonight,” Terry said. “Our crowd was great down the stretch and really gave us a lot of energy.”
Terry said communication was key for the ‘Dogs late in the game, because he felt it fueled the defensive tone. They held the Tigers to just 9 of 33 shooting for 25 points in the first half and 11 of 30 for 31 points in the second.
“Coach Terry told us to bring our defensive intensity and make this be the best defensive game we’ve had all year,” Guerrero said, “and I felt like it was. We held a great Princeton team to a low [shooting] percentage.”
Led by freshman Karachi Edo, Fresno State’s bench players provided a lift as they outscored Princeton’s 13-6. All of the Bulldogs reserves saw playing time in the win.
The ‘Dogs saw their lead slip away in the first two minutes of the second half, as Princeton came out of the locker room on a 9-0 run to take a 34-33 lead. However, the ‘Dogs didn’t panic, kept their composure and continued to execute their game plan. That helped them eventually regain the lead and make several runs to close out the game.
“We had to set the tone defensively,” Terry said. “We had to answer the bell, and I think for the second part of the year, we’ve done that. Teams have made runs at us … we had to regroup and our guys stayed together.”
This is the first time in Terry’s three years as head coach that his team has reached the postseason. The Bulldogs and Mountain West runner-up San Diego State are the only teams in the conference still playing.
In the first round of the CBI on March 19, the ‘Dogs went on the road and defeated the UTEP Miners in El Paso, Texas, 61-56.
Monday night’s game snapped the Tigers’ 6-game win streak.
Princeton’s Hans Brase (19 points) and T.J. Bray (17) each tallied double figures. Brase added 10 rebounds to record a double-double.
“We are one of the few teams in our conference still playing, and we feel we have the ability to advance in the postseason,” Johnson said. “The young guys are getting experience from postseason wins, and we are all wanting to go out on a good note.”
The ‘Dogs will continue their March Madness tonight at 7 p.m. when they host Old Dominion in the semifinal match. They look to claim their 20th win for the first time since the 2006-2007 season.
Terry said that the young guys gaining experience this postseason is going to be “valuable for us in the future.”
“This time of year, it’s a privilege to be playing,” he said. “When you’re playing this deep into March, there’s nothing like it.
“You have to play every possession like it’s your last, and you can’t have any regrets. It’s a great time of year, and our guys are excited to continue playing.”