Fresno State head coach Rodney Terry addresses players Paul Watson (left), Marvelle Harris (center) and Julien Lewis (right) during a timeout period in Thursday’s NCAA Tournament game against Utah. (Keith Kountz/Fresno State Athletics)
The Fresno State men’s basketball team fell to Utah 80-69 as its comeback effort fell short in the first round of the NCAA tournament Thursday night in Denver.
The Bulldogs had to play catch up basketball for most of the game after trailing big early but went on a 10-0 run after senior guard Julien Lewis scored seven straight points to help give his team its first lead of the game at 49-48.
“Tonight, we didn’t do a great job at the start of the ballgame,” Fresno State fifth-year head coach Rodney Terry said. “We didn’t make decisive plays, we didn’t make good decision-making plays in the first half. I thought we were much, much better in the second half. As a direct result of that, we had a ballgame with seven minutes to go.”
Mountain West Player of the Year Marvelle Harris helped sparked the comeback early in the second half but it wasn’t enough to withstand a barrage of 3-pointers and stifling defense from Utah.
Sophomore 7-footer and projected NBA lottery pick Jakob Poeltl also fueled the Utes with 16 points and a career-high 18 rebounds in the big win as the Bulldogs were outrebounded 38-15 in the match.
Utah went on a huge 19-2 late in the game to give it its biggest lead of the game at 16. The Utes never relinquished the lead after falling behind for the first time all night.
Poeltl scored on a crafty play as he got fouled to stop the run and control the rest of the game.
With their season on the line, the ‘Dogs made one last push and scored nine straight points to cut the deficit to eight with two minutes left in the game.
Harris led the Bulldogs with 24 points and junior forward Karachi Edo and Lewis each chipped in with 14 points apiece.
“We came a long way,” Harris said. “We didn’t just want to make the tournament, we wanted to win, of course. But we came a long way. I’m proud of the program, players, coaches and community. We showed a lot of grit and toughness this season.”
Lorenzo Bonam had 17 points and Brandon Taylor added 16 for the Utes, who will try for their second-straight trip to the Sweet 16 when they face Seton Hall or Gonzaga on Saturday night.