The Fresno State men’s basketball team erased a nine-point deficit in the final minutes with senior guard and Preseason Mountain West Player of the Year Marvelle Harris leading the way in a thrilling 64-63, come-from-behind win over Air Force Wednesday night at Save Mart Center.
The Bulldogs were falling behind to an Air Force team (14-15, 5-11 MW), that was second to last in the standings and had not won a game on the road in conference play.
But a late spark helped Fresno State turn things around late, and coach Rodney Terry credited the team’s poise and Harris’ leadership down the stretch.
“Marvelle [Harris] stepped up at a very high level in the second half,” Terry said. “To me, he is the best player in this league, but I’m a little biased because I’m his coach. He’s been really poised. He had two points in the first half, because he was sharing the basketball and wasn’t trying to be overly aggressive. He trusts his teammates right now. This team has really bought into doing whatever it takes to win.”
The Bulldogs (19-9, 10-5 MW) got off to a sluggish start, missing multiple layups and committing costly fouls which allowed the Falcons to pull out to an early lead in the first half with a barrage of 3-pointers.
Down by as many as 10 points in the first half, the ‘Dogs were able to close the gap to two points with two free throws from junior guard Lionel Ellison III. The Falcons then followed up with a 12-2 run to close the first half, in which they converted nine 3-pointers, with a 41-33 lead.
The team leaned on Harris to provide a spark in the second half after he shot 1-for-5 in the opening half, and he showed why he was voted preseason conference player of the year as he ignited his team with his energy and crafty moves to the basket.
“My teammates believed in me,” Harris said. “After Nevada, which was a hard loss, I remember I missed two free throws, and we talked about it in the locker room. Nobody put their head down. Nobody got down on me. They just patted me on the back and said I would do better next time. Today was the same opportunity, and that support helped me a lot.”
The Bulldogs started the second half with a 6-0 run coming from back-to-back 3-pointers from senior guards Julien Lewis and Cezar Guerrero, but after that it was the Marvelle show.
With the Bulldogs down by eight, Harris drained a 3-pointer to close the gap to five (56-51) with 6:55 left in the game.
Then again with the Dogs’ down 61-52, Harris pulled up for another jumper to cut the Bulldogs’ deficit to 61-54 with 2:39 left in the game. The Falcons’ again answered with another layup which would be the last points the Bulldogs allowed in the game as Harris continued to impress, hitting another clutch 3-pointer with 1:53 left to cut the score to 63-57 and ignite a 10-0 Bulldog run.
Harris then converted on a 3-point play by driving for his patented spinning layup, getting fouled and making a free throw with 1:20 left to cut the lead and make it a one-possession game at 63-60.
Fresno State used pressure defense off the Harris free throw and forced an Air Force turnover. Guerrero was called for an offensive foul driving to the basket, but came up with the key steal with 47 seconds to go that set up two more free throws by Harris to get the Bulldogs within one point inside a minute.
The Falcons missed a short jumper at the other end, and with the shot-clock running down, junior forward Cullen Russo rebounded and Harris drove right to the basket and was fouled to head back to the line. He sunk two free throws with four seconds left on the clock.
Harris scored the Bulldogs’ final 12 points, including the game-winning 10-0 run to close out the thrilling come-from-behind victory, all in the last 1:53 of the game.
“It was something we practiced.” Harris said. “My team always has confidence in me, and we always support each other. So, when anybody takes a shot, you always feel confident because supporting each other always makes everything easier.”
Fresno State improved to 5-0 this season in games decided by a single possession and tied a Save Mart Center record with 15 home wins, which currently leads all Mountain West schools.
Harris was 6-of-13 from the field and hit all five of his free throws for the Bulldogs, who sit alone in second place in the conference race entering the final three regular-season games. He scored 18 of his game-high 20 points in the second half and had four steals and three blocks.
Junior forward Karachi Edo added 12 points.
Zach Kocur scored 19 points for Air Force. Hayden Graham and Jacob Van added 11 points each.