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Fresno State sophomore guard Johnny McWilliams (3) shoots against Montana State on Nov. 26, 2017, at the Save Mart Center. The Bulldogs won 80-67. (Benjamin Soto/The Collegian)

Free throws key to ‘Dogs’ victory

The Fresno State men’s basketball team defeated Montana State at home Saturday 80-67 on the strength of a nearly career-high in scoring from junior guard Deshon Taylor.

Taylor scored a season-high 31 points, one shy of his career-best mark of 32. Taylor has been on fire to start the season. Just six games into the year, he was leading the team in points per game at just over 17 going into the game.

“I just play defense, and the offensive end will come,” Taylor said.

Taylor almost equaled his season average in the first half alone with 15 points.

The Bulldogs suffocated Montana State through the first 10 minutes of the first half, and that allowed the team to race to a double-digit lead that eventually swelled as big as 14 points.

He and the rest of the team’s defense were largely responsible for the fast start.

Taylor said that, defensively, he focuses on the opposing player’s dribble to help him stay in good position, and that was a big part of his success on that end of the floor.

“I just watch their hesitation moves; are they going left two dribbles, two dribbles right; you have to learn stuff like that when you are guarding the team’s best player,” Taylor said.

The Bobcats’ scrappy defense kept them in the game in the first half against the favored Bulldogs. They forced the Bulldogs into five turnovers, which they capitalized on to the tune of 12 of their 35 first-half points.

The Bulldogs had a 37-35 lead going into halftime as they allowed Montana State to shoot 46 percent from the field, going 12 for 26. They also put the Bobcats on the free-throw line 14 times, and they shot 64 percent.

Montana State hammered the Bulldogs with its bench in the first half. Its second unit outscored the Bulldogs’ bench 22-13 and was an integral part of the team’s late second-half run to keep them in the game.

Fresno State capitalized heavily from the free-throw line, going 29-of-32 from the stripe, much to the delight of head coach Rodney Terry.

“We know we’re going to be in a lot of close ballgames all year long, and we came up a little short against Evansville, particularly in that area,” Terry said.

With the victory, the Bulldogs improve their record to 4-2 on the season. They will continue their homestand at 7 p.m. Thursday against Weber State at the Save Mart Center before taking the road for a game at Long Beach State.