On the night that the Fresno State men’s basketball team celebrated its senior class, the ’Dogs capitalized on a dominant first half 35-24 to beat the visiting UNLV Runnin’ Rebels 72-59.
The ’Dogs improved to 11-7 in the Mountain West Conference and 19-11 overall.
Seniors Paul Watson, Cullen Russo and Karachi Edo were honored in front of friends, family and fans for their collegiate careers with the Bulldogs.
Head coach Rodney Terry said watching them grow over the years was particularly pleasing .
“Time flies,” Terry said. “I remember when Paul and Karachi were freshmen; they had to start their first game here because we had some injuries. They never really looked back from that point on.”
Terry credited the trio for helping to elevate the program.
“Those guys have had the opportunity to be on two postseason teams already, with the opportunity for a third. That is a pretty good career for guys who came in and were stumbling around as freshmen,” Terry said. “I have seen those guys go from young boys to young men who are going to be productive guys and have a degree to show for it.”
With the help of Jaron Hopkins, Deshon Taylor and Terrell Carter II, the ’Dogs closed out the regular season in winning fashion continuing their win streak into the Mountain West Conference tournament.
Taylor finished the game with a team-high 19 points, while Hopkins and Carter chipped in 16 and 15 points respectively.
Freshman Bryce Williams opened the scoring for the ’Dogs with a post hook after shaking off a defender.
After the Rebels (11-20, 4-14 MW) opened the game on a 5-2 run, Hopkins crossed up his defender for a layup to cut the deficit to one point. With 15 minutes left in the half, Russo got his name on the scoreboard with a putback.
The ’Dogs took the lead after Jahmel Taylor connected from long range for a one-point lead. After the Rebels scored on a breakaway layup, Jahmel came back again with a deep 3-pointer.
With 11 minutes remaining, the ’Dogs led by two after a 12-7 run.
Carter and Hopkins combined to score six straight points after Hopkins assisted on Carter’s layups inside. Hopkins then pushed the fast break to score on a finish with his right hand.
Carter scored his sixth point in the half with another strong layup after he outmuscled his opponent for the two points.
After a strong defensive effort with 8 1/2 minutes left, Deshon hit a shot just inside the 3-point line to give the ’Dogs an 11-point lead.
The ’Dogs capitalized on a 13-1 run pushing the lead to 13 points with seven minutes remaining.
Williams showed his defensive prowess after he flew from the help side to deliver a crowd-cheering block on the UNLV center. Williams’ length continued to bother the opponent’s front-court players.
Deshon executed a timely block to give the ’Dogs a fast break chance. He later dribbled around a screen by Williams and threw down a one-handed tomahawk dunk. The home crowd leaped out of their seats.
With 2 1/2 minutes left in the first half, Fresno State had a strong 15-point advantage.
The ’Dogs ended the half up 11 points after a Rebels rally.
After Taylor hit an open shot for the first two points of the second half, Williams scored on a tough layup in the paint followed by Hopkins’ breakaway two-handed slam.
Four minutes into the second half, the ’Dogs were up 14 points over the Rebels.
After Carter entered the game, the ’Dogs battled out to a 19-point lead culminating after Carter scored on consecutive baskets.
The Rebels made a comeback with under 10 minutes to go to cut the deficit by eight points. With 4 1/2 minutes left, Fresno State’s lead slipped to 11 points.
With three minutes remaining, the ‘Dogs stepped up defensively to keep the lead intact.
Taylor connected on a deep 3-pointer to push the lead to 16, bringing the bench to its feet. Hopkins followed suit by drilling a three of his own.
The ’Dogs closed out the game after they held the Rebels to four points in the final three minutes. The Fresno State defense held the Rebels to 35 percent shooting, going 19 of 53.
The ’Dogs will enter the tournament as the No. 4 seed.
Terry said it’s all about finishing at this point in the year.
“Postseason play starts for us in Vegas,” Terry said. “If you are able to finish at a very high rate and execute at a very high level, then you advance. That is what this time of the year is about.”
The defending champion Bulldogs take on No. 5 seed New Mexico at 2:30 p.m. Thursday at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.