The Fresno State men’s basketball team (6-14, 2-7 Mountain West) made history Saturday night against the Boise State Broncos (13-8, 5-4 MW), unfortunately for them, they were on the wrong side of history as Boise State dismantled the Bulldogs 87-53.
The 34-point loss marks the worst loss for a Fresno State team at the Save Mart Center in the building’s 17-year history.
The Bulldogs were once again playing with a new starting lineup as guard Anthony Holland did not start and only saw 12 minutes of action due to an elbow injury.
Fresno State was also without star center Nate Grimes, but this time his absence was not because of injury. Grimes missed his third game of the season because he is serving an indefinite suspension for conduct detrimental to the team.
Even though Fresno State was without two key players, the Bulldogs competed with Boise State early, getting good ball movement and using their ability to drive to the basket.
The Bulldogs’ driving ability allowed them to kick the ball out to open shooters beyond the arc, which guard Noah Blackwell took advantage of early on hitting two of his four 3-pointers.
Blackwell was the only bright spot for the Bulldogs on Saturday, finishing the game with 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting from the field and 4-of-5 from three.
The Bulldogs had a 14-12 lead following the second timeout of the game, but that would be the last time Fresno State would hold a lead over the Broncos. Boise State proceeded to capitalize on the Bulldogs’ inability to knock down shots going on a 15-3 run.
It was a rough six-minute stretch for the Bulldogs, missing seven shots in a row and turning the ball over twice. The Bulldogs went into that six-minute stretch leading by two and by the end of it being down 30-19.
From that point, the Broncos never looked back as they led for the rest of the game.
As the lead grew, the Broncos began to ramp up their defensive pressure and the Bulldogs failed to get into a rhythm. Go-to scorers like guards New Williams and Jarred Hyder had trouble all night trying to get their shots to fall.
In a post-game interview with the Idaho Statesman, Boise State head coach Leon Rice credited his guard Justinian Jessup with keeping Williams in check for the whole game, saying Jessup was the reason for Williams’ off night.
“You look at what Justinian did defensively. I was watching him (Williams) in pre-game and oh, he has a clip,” Rice said in the interview. “He goes 0-for-7 tonight…and Justinian played terrific defense.”
Williams ended his night without hitting a shot from the field, shooting 0-for-7 and 0-for-4 from beyond the arc, as all of his eight points were from the free-throw line. Hyder was just as inefficient, shooting 1-of-5 from the field and 0-for-2 from three ending his night with only four points.
Despite the Bulldogs finishing the first half with a paltry 39.1 percent (9-of-23) field goal percentage and 44.4 percent (4-of-9) from three, the Bulldogs were only down by nine points with Boise State leading 35-26.
In the post-game press conference, Fresno State head coach Justin Huston explained how a nine-point game at half turned into a 34-point blowout, saying that it was all communication.
“Defensively, bad communication. It just starts there,” Hutson said. “It was not very good in the first half.”
It was apparent that the Bulldogs missed Grimes on the court as the Broncos out-rebounded the Bulldogs 33 to 24. His absence also hurt the ‘Dogs as they gave up 32 points in the paint, while also allowing eight offensive rebounds and nine second-chance points.
Unfortunately for the ‘Dogs, the scoring came easy for the Broncos as four of their five starters were in double figures. Guards Derrick Alston and Jessup finished with 14 and 19 points respectively, while forward RJ Williams also had 14 points. Forward Abu Kigab led all scorers with 23 points on 8-of-14 from the field and knocked down four of six 3-point attempts.
Kigab and Jessup both had success from 3-point range, as Kigab hit 4-of-6 and Jessup, who had many open looks and catch-and-shoot opportunities, was 50 percent (5-of-10) from three. Boise State, as a whole, finished the game shooting 50 percent (14-of-28) from behind the arc.
Saturday night was an all-around bad night for the ‘Dogs, but the Bulldogs did not do themselves any favors racking up 19 turnovers (11 in the second half). Boise State took advantage of the Bulldogs’ offensive misfortunes, scoring 31 of their 87 points off turnovers.
Fresno State finished the game with more turnovers (19) than field goals (16).
“On both ends, it’s maybe the best complete game that we’ve played,” said Rice on his team’s success on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball.
The ‘Dogs’ inability to make shots was prevalent throughout the night as the statistics did not improve in the second half. As Boise State’s lead continued to grow, the team looked more and more dejected.
Fresno State finished the second half only hitting seven shots from the field, shooting 7-of-20 and 0-for-7 from three. Combined with the poor shooting of the first half, the Bulldogs finished the game 16-of-43 (37.2 percent) from the field and 4-of-16 (25 percent).
“Offensively we did not get to the second penetration nearly enough. When we did, we looked like a basketball team,” Huston said. “We drove there and we kicked it out. Niven Hart drove there and got fouled. Or Jarred (Hyder) goes baseline and we get one more and hit a 3-point shot.”
The death knell for the Bulldogs came with 6:09 left in the game and down 71-44. During an offensive possession, Boise State’s Alston drove to the basket and skied over 7-foot-2 center Assane Diouf for a posterizing dunk, leaving those left in attendance in awe.
In the post-game interview with the Idaho Statesman, Kigab gave his first-hand account of what he saw leading up to the dunk.
“I was trailing behind him and I saw him go for it. I mean, he jumped, got a little boost and I seen his arm over the rim,” Kigab said. “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh,’ and boom, he put that down. That was one of the best in-game dunks I’ve seen. It was great.”
Saturday was an all-around game that the Bulldogs would like to forget. In the post-game press conference, Blackwell aired his frustrations following the loss.
“It’s frustrating, I mean we lost by 30 – that’s never happened at home. It’s just frustrating knowing how good we are and that we are not performing as well as we could,” Blackwell said. “I just told the boys to keep their heads up. We still have a talented team.”
Blackwell also showed his support for Grimes and said he is there when his teammate needs him.
“I am going to be there for him, he is my roommate. I’ve been talking to him and just making sure his head is right,” said Blackwell.
Huston also spoke on the possibility of seeing Grimes back on the court against Air Force and if or when that will take place.
“I’ll talk to him tomorrow. He had a few things I asked him to do, for him to get back on the team,” Hutson said. “It (his suspension) was not something that was too major, but it was something that he warranted not being here for a while. We’ll have a chat tomorrow to discuss whether he will be going on the trip.”
Fresno State will now look towards traveling to Colorado Springs, Colo., to face Air Force (9-12, 3-6 MW) on Tuesday, but Huston did have one last message for his team.
“Just to let them know the consistency that we need to play with and keep letting them know we care about them. We love them. We’re going to make them better and we have to do better than this,” Huston said. “It wasn’t good enough, but why? I think the bigger picture is why. You build confidence with the ‘why’s.'”