Fresno State shows it can shoot and play a complete game, ending losing streak
A Fresno State team that had not made many plays and last time out appeared it didn’t want to play much at all pulled off an 82-79 upset at UNLV on Friday, snapping a three-game losing streak in which it had lost by ever-widening margins of 10, 17 and 23 points.
This time, the Bulldogs played with an energy, a confidence and a toughness, and it carried them through 40 minutes on a tightrope at the Thomas & Mack Center with the lead changing hands 15 times with eight ties. In the second half, the teams were separated by more than two possessions for only 14 seconds.
“Coach was telling us pretty much the whole week just to stay aggressive, so that’s what we tried to do, come out and be tough and just be gritty,” said guard Jemarl Baker, who led the Bulldogs with 23 points including a jumper with 2:59 to go that extended their lead to eight points, ever so briefly.
“A lot of times, we’ve had lapses in other games and at key times in the games, and tonight we made plays.”
Fresno State (8-14, 4-7 in the Mountain West), which was down a key piece with Anthony Holland back in Fresno due to an illness, came up with big rebounds, big defensive stops and steals.
It navigated its way through foul trouble with both of its bigs, Eduardo Andre and Isiah Moore, fouling out. It answered every turnover or soft foul at the rim, came up with some big baskets off pick-and-roll when UNLV switched, found open shots in knocking down a season-high 52.9% of its threes and got to the foul line a season-high 30 times. Its high in conference play had been 22, in a 76-73 victory over the Rebels at the Save Mart Center, the only time the Bulldogs had taken as many as 20 foul shots in a game.
Most of all for a team that had hit just 37.3% of its field goal attempts and 21.9% of its threes in that three-game losing streak, Fresno State hit big shots and in the final minute it hit big free throws.
Baker went to the line with 18 seconds remaining, the Bulldogs up by one point. He knocked down both foul shots, with a UNLV timeout in between. Isaiah Hill was fouled off an inbounds pass after the Rebels (15-8, 4-7) got back within one with 4 seconds to go. He made both free throws.
“Those guys, they stepped up,” coach Justin Hutson said. “Jemarl and Zay, they deserved that. The team deserved that, but Jemarl and Zay deserved that.
“You know, sometimes the shots just don’t go your way, but when you play that hard and you do that many good things, they deserve to be able to finish off the game like that and I’m so proud of them.”
All UNLV had left at that point was time for a desperation shot that never got off the ground. Jordan Campbell came up with a steal, and that was the ball game.
“UNLV, you really have to match their toughness if you want to go out there and win,” Hill said. “In the first half we got out-rebounded and Coach gave us a good speech at halftime and fired us up so we went out there and competed and matched their energy, plus some more.”
Fresno State had eight of its 12 assists in the second half.
Moore was on the floor for only 22 minutes, but scored 11 points with eight rebounds including five at the offensive end, three assists and two steals.
The Bulldogs had 15 turnovers, but UNLV scored only 10 points off them.
Fresno State has won 11 of the past 15 meetings with UNLV and swept the Rebels in a season series for the first time since 2018. Seven of the past eight games have been two-possession games and six of the past eight have been one-possession games.
NEXT FOR FRESNO STATE
Tuesday vs. San Jose State, 7 p.m. at the Save Mart Center