The Fresno State men’s basketball team continues to scratch and claw its way to first place in the Mountain West with less than a month until the MW tournament, defeating the University of New Mexico at the Save Mart Center on Saturday 82-70.
The Bulldogs once again faced a challenge they have dealt with all season — size discrepancy. Defending the bigger Lobos was difficult for the undersized ‘Dogs. As the Lobos went up 16-7 at the at the 14:19 mark, the start of the game looked reminiscent of the ‘Dogs’ matchup last Saturday against Colorado State.
But the Bulldogs answered back with a 14-3 run to take a 21-19 lead over the Lobos, and the back-and-forth battle between the two teams continued for the remainder of the half, with a total of eight lead changes, finishing with the ‘Dogs going into the locker room up 35-33.
Center Nate Grimes shouldered the load for the Bulldogs, finishing with an impressive 19 point and 19 rebound double-double, accumulating both 10 points and 10 rebounds by halftime. Grimes’ 19 boards set a new Save Mart Center record for rebounds in a game, while achieving his seventh double-double of the season.
Grimes was surprised about the rebounding record, finding out about it at the press conference after the game, but said his focus on rebounding was to get the win for the ‘Dogs.
“I didn’t know about the record. I was just rebounding,” Grimes said. “That is what coach wants me to do, and I did it.”
Along with Grimes, the scoring duo of Braxton Huggins and Deshon Taylor came up big for the ‘Dogs, as Huggins finished with a game-high 22 points and eight rebounds, while Taylor came up clutch with 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting and seven rebounds.
As both teams came out for the second half, neither one was going to give the other any ground, trading shots back-and-forth as the game was seemingly coming down to the wire. But with the game tied 48-48 at the 12:41 mark, Bulldogs took the lead and never looked back, as once again they went on an explosive 14-5 run, going up 62-53.
With an 11 point lead and five minutes to go, Taylor took over the game, shutting the door on the pesky Lobos and denying any hope of a comeback by scoring 10 of the Bulldogs’ last 13 points. As the Lobos began to soften defensively and showing signs of easing up tempo being down by double figures, Taylor took advantage, slashing and dashing through the paint with six of those points coming on layups.
The victory keeps the quest for first place alive as the Dogs move to (16-5, 7-2 MW) and are now locked in at second place in the conference with upcoming opponent Utah State (17-5, 8-1 MW). The two teams meet on Tuesday night, both are one game back and nipping at the heels of first-place No.8/7 Nevada (21-1, 8-1 MW).
Coach Justin Hutson is already looking toward the tough matchup against the Aggies.
“They are starting to have some separation in the standings themselves. We play them on Tuesday, so we are going to have to walk through some things tomorrow,” Hutson said. “The guys will come in and watch a little film and then walk through some stuff tomorrow.”