Although the Fresno State men’s basketball team swept the regular-season series against the San Diego State Aztecs, the postseason was a different story. The Bulldogs fell 64-52 in the quarterfinal round of the 2018 Mountain West Tournament at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas on March 8.
“We give a lot of credit to San Diego State. They’ve had a great finish to their season,” Fresno State head coach Rodney Terry said. “Take my hat off to my guys. I thought my guys competed hard today like they have all season long, and we just lost to a better team today.”
Sophomore Bryson Williams was a one-man band in the quarterfinal matchup. He scored 23 points on 10-of-19 shootings to go along with his nine rebounds and a lone assist. Without senior Jaron Hopkins on the floor due to a foot injury, the team’s creativity took a big hit. Out of the Bulldogs’ 23 baskets, only six assists were dished out in the contest to go along with 14 turnovers.
Without Hopkins, the Bulldogs were forced to adapt.
“We weren’t able to play probably as fast as we were in the past, so we relied on getting transition baskets,” Terry said. “He was a speed guy for us, a guy of size, and he was our leading rebounder. So, put all those together it was a major loss for us.”
Along with a disparity on the scoreboard, the Bulldogs committed more turnovers, went to the free-throw line less and were outscored in both bench and fast-break points.
“Yeah, we had five turnovers in a row. It was a real bad stretch,” Williams said of the Bulldogs’ struggles. “We just didn’t take care of the ball, and we have to do better with that. We really worked hard all year on taking care of the ball, and we really take pride in that. We just didn’t do a good job of it tonight. Give credit to San Diego State. They’re a real good defensive team.”
From the opening whistle, the Aztecs seemed to have the upper hand. Through the first five minutes, the Bulldogs had trouble converting their chances, and if it wasn’t for senior Ray Bowles early on, the Bulldogs would’ve been in a sizable hole to open the game.
Fresno State got on the board within the first three minutes of the game after Williams out-jumped the Aztec defender for an offensive rebound and subsequent layup. Without starting point guard Hopkins in the lineup, getting off to a hot start was imperative for the Bulldogs.
Bowles chipped in early after he took a power dribble into the paint where he absorbed the contact and converted the layup. Although the Bulldogs opened the first five minutes of play hitting only two of their eight shots, they found themselves down only a point.
Bowles once again applied the pressure after another tough layup inside. Bowles used the crossover to send the Aztecs’ Matt Mitchell to the ground before finishing at the rim.
Deshon Taylor sent the Bulldogs’ fans into jubilation after a deep three tied the game. The Bulldogs had missed their previous four shots before the bucket.
The Aztecs combined tough defense and high-percentage shots to hold the Bulldogs in place. San Diego State continued to put points on the board, and with less than 10 minutes remaining, the Aztecs took an eight-point lead, 19-11.
Fresno State countered with Bowles and Williams contributing to an 8-2 run. After Bowles knocked down his third bucket of the half, Williams showed his pedigree with a powerful and-one layup over the Aztec defense.
The Bulldogs took their first lead with six minutes left in the half. Bowles found Terrell Carter II streaking down the field court for an easy layup. The layup gave Fresno State a 22-21 lead.
The Aztecs fought their way back, outscoring the Bulldogs 8-4 to end the half.
Fresno State entered the half down 29-26, and that was the closest the Bulldogs got. Fresno State closed the gap to four points in the second half with less than 12 minutes to go. However, the Aztecs responded swiftly to the Bulldogs’ late comeback.
San Diego State went on a 16-6 run over the next eight minutes to stifle the Bulldogs’ efforts in the end.
“We just didn’t execute our game plan, like late in the second half,” Taylor said. “Like you said, we turned the ball over like five times in a row. We were trying to put the ball inside, but it wasn’t going our way.”
This loss snaps Fresno State’s semifinal appearance streak in the Mountain West Tournament.