Fueled by sophomore Marvelle Harris’ game-high 20 points, the Fresno State men’s basketball team punched its ticket to the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) finals where it will battle Siena College for the tournament crown.
The Bulldogs beat the Old Dominion Monarchs 71-64 Wednesday night at the Save Mart Center. This will be the their first postseason championship appearance since winning the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) in 1983.
“I am proud of what they’ve done this year,” said Fresno State head coach Rodney Terry about his team. “We’ve done a lot this year and faced a lot of adversity. We’ve had the ultimate team effort all year long, and tonight was no different.”
Engaging in a tight battle early, the ‘Dogs and Monarchs exchanged leads. Fresno State then went on to build a double-digit advantage late in the first half. However, ODU answered back to cut its deficit to four at halftime.
Terry said in order to pull away, his team had to “continue to try to get to the foul line” and execute ita free throws. His squad did just that as it outscored the Monarchs 27-8 from the line.
“They’re a lot like us. They were trying to get to the foul line likewise,” Terry said. “They drove the basketball, and they have guys that can shoot the basketball well. We definitely made a conscious effort to get to the paint and own that Mountain West [logo inside the key] as much as possible so we could get to the free-throw line.”
Terry’s group maintained a stable lead until halfway through the second.
ODU forward Richard Ross executed a layup with about 10 minutes remaining to cut Fresno State’s lead to 1 (48-47). The Bulldogs scored 5 consecutive points in the following two minutes to crush the Monarchs’ hopes of going ahead.
Guard Cezar Guerrero scored Fresno State’s final 7 points which closed the deal and prevented an ODU comeback. Guerrero was one of four Bulldogs in double figures, accumulating 14. Other ‘Dogs in double digits were senior Tyler Johnson (13) and freshman Paul Watson (15).
Harris saw this game as an opportunity to bounce back. He led the team in points and played for 38 minutes. In the quarterfinal match against Princeton, he only compiled 4 points and played just 20 minutes. On Wednesday, he simply felt refreshed and more energized.
“It just felt good,” Harris said. “I did a lot of treatment and took care of my body. Coach told me he needed me back this game, so I did what I had to do to get my body prepared.”
Fresno State (20-16) defeated UTEP, Princeton and Old Dominion to get to this point and earn a spot in the title series. The win marked the Bulldogs’ first 20-win season since the 2006-2007 campaign.
Terry said he has a lot to be proud of from his group reaching the 20-win mark. He sees it as a special accomplishment for his group considering the adversity and tough schedule it faced this season.
After surviving and advancing, the ‘Dogs are just one of the few teams in the country still playing. They will battle Siena College (18-17) in a best-of-three series for the CBI Championship.
Fresno State will host the Saints for Game 1 of the series on Monday at 7 p.m. The ‘Dogs head into the contest having won 12 of their last 15.
It will be the final game this season at the Save Mart Center. Games 2 and 3, if necessary, will be at Siena’s Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y.
“I hope the community gets a chance to come out and see this team play one more time here at home,” Terry said. “We’re playing a really good opponent, and we’re excited about the opportunity.”