Bulldogs victorious in nail-biter against Broncos

Fresno State guard Braxton Huggins goes up for a contested layup while defended by Boise State’s Zach Haney during the Bulldogs’ 65-63 victory at the Save Mart Center on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019. (Jose Romo Jr./The Collegian).

The 2018-2019 Fresno State men’s basketball has made a habit of living on the edge, filling the Bulldog faithful with anxiety and alleviation. Due to late game heroics, Wednesday night wasn’t any different, as the game came down to the final shot in the ‘Dogs’ 65-63 victory over Boise State.

In a game that included 16 lead changes throughout, the Bulldogs were able to slide past the Broncos, due in large part to sharpshooting guard Braxton Huggins, who provided the ‘Dogs with much needed scoring, posting 26 points on 9-of-16 shooting.

After a decent first half, Huggins exploded in the second half, in which he scored 18 of his 26 points, as the defense quickly found out that if you give Huggins three inches, he’ll beat you for three points. Huggins scored 3 treys in the second half, adding to the lone three-pointer he provided in the first half, and finished the night 4-of-9 from deep.

Head coach Justin Hutson spoke about Huggins’s fearless approach to scoring in the post game interview.

“He [Huggins] has no fear and he [Huggins] is talented. You can’t have a guy who is talented but scared to take the shot,” Hutson said. “We talk about making the play. We want him to attack, and if he has to, then we want him to kick it out. If he is open to make a play, then he is one of our best.”

Nate Grimes was once again a force in the paint, recording his ninth double-double of the season. He finished the game with a robust 15 rebounds and 13 points, including a big rebound late in the game, which led to a crucial point that came during a game-clinching free throw with under 10 seconds, as the ever-stoic Grimes put the ‘Dogs up 65-63.

Just moments before Grimes’s free throw, a persistent Boise State team retook the lead with a quick jumper tying the game two more times thereafter. But Huggins performed on another level, driving to the hoop to get a basket and a drawn foul. Huggins completed the three-point play to give the Bulldogs a 62-61 lead with 28 seconds remaining in the game.

Grimes also provided three blocks, as he and teammates Huggins and Noah Blackwell turned the Save Mart Center into a block party, with both adding blocks of their own at crucial times for the ‘Dogs.

Huggins lit a fire under the crowd, as he soared through the air during a Boise State fast break, connecting on a chase-down block reminiscent of LeBron James’s chase-down block in the 2016 NBA Finals, ultimately leaving the Bulldog faithful stunned during every subsequent replay.

Blackwell’s rejection came following a scramble for a loose ball during a defensive possession. As a Boise State player was able to corral the ball and drive to the basket, Blackwell was in the most opportune spot to block the go-ahead floater at its apex with nine seconds left.

Blackwell was fouled after gathering the rebound. The two ensuing free throws gave him 10 points for the night.

The Bulldogs found solace in their time of need from two unlikely sources in freshman Aguir Agau and inconspicuous forward Christian Gray.

Agau has played a decent amount of minutes for a freshman in a rotation that includes two of the best players in the Mountain West (Taylor and Huggins). For good reason, as Agau has answered the call when the opportunity arises.

Agau’s two rebounds and lone steal doesn’t light up the stat sheet at the end of the night. But those watching saw a player find his stride on a team that needs someone to play with a sense of urgency and passion when on the court.

In contrast, Gray has found himself accumulating a sparse amount of minutes this season. However, he has made the most of his six total minutes, providing a much needed spark to the Bulldogs’ rotation, playing every inch of his 6-foot-6-inch frame. Gray recorded 3 rebounds in crunch time playing the role of spark plug for the ‘Dogs.

Senior guard Deshon Taylor continued to cement his legacy as a Bulldog, moving up to No. 19 on the ‘Dogs’ all-time scoring list with 1,301 career points while at Fresno State.

The victory keeps the Bulldogs (18-6, 9-3 MW) in a virtual tie for second place in the conference with Utah State (19-6, 9-3 MW), as their road game against No. 7 Nevada on Feb. 23 creeps up.

But first the ‘Dogs have two games to take care of before hand, including a visit to the “Pit” as they travel to face a struggling 11-13, but not-to-be-glossed-over New Mexico team on Feb. 16.

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