By Stephen Trembley
By Stephen Trembley
FRESNO, Calif. --- Fresno State had the relentlessly physical Nevada Wolf Pack right where it wanted, but didn't convert enough shots with the game on the line and fell 79-76 in the Bulldogs' fourth-ever triple overtime game on Saturday night at the Save Mart Center.
"We talk all the time about how we're never going to get too high or never going to get too low," first-year Fresno State head coach Rodney Terry said. "Are we disappointed with the outcome of tonight's game? Absolutely! But we feel like we could compete with anyone on any given night, we do."
The 'Dogs went blow-for-blow with the conference-leading Wolf Pack and gave everyone in attendance a rousing effort that featured 32 lead changes and 19 ties.
Foster chalked up a career-high 24 points on 8-of-12 from the field and added 12 rebounds while Wills scored 19 points to go with 10 rebounds. Sophomore guards Tyler Johnson and Kevin Olekaibe added 13 and 11 points, respectively. Senior point guard Steven Shepp tied his career-high by dishing out 11 assists and also chipped in four points in joining Hut with a game-best 53 minutes played.
But Foster, Johnson and Olekaibe all fouled out in the final minute of the third overtime and Nevada used strong showings by Duke transfer Olek Czyz (25 points/11 rebounds) and senior Dario Hunt (20 points/15 rebounds) to slip past the Bulldogs and clinch at least a share of the Western Athletic Conference regular season championship.
"Both teams didn't want to lose," Nevada coach David Carter said. "[Both teams] really battled to win the game. [Our] guys had to find the will to win considering we were playing on the opponent's floor. [They] showed their will tonight to win the game."
Nevada's will was more than tested - it was challenged for a full 55 minutes of heart-stopping basketball before a national audience on the final broadcast of the WAC Sports Network.
Neither team led by more than six points, which came when the Pack held a 53-47 advantage with 5:53 remaining in regulation.
That's when Olekaibe, who was coming off scorching Seattle U for a career-high 43 points on Thursday, heated up and smoothly stroked back-to-back 3-pointers to force overtime.
All three extra sessions were tightly contest until Czyz, who had been whistled for his fifth foul late in first overtime before the referees decided to change the call, tapped in a putback with 55.3 seconds remaining in the third overtime and drew Foster's fifth foul.
"It's tough," Foster said of being forced to sit for the final minute due to fouls. "I felt like if I never would have fouled out I could have really helped the team (even more)... but my team played hard out there all night."
Deonte Burton calmed converted two free throws with 21.4 seconds left that sealed the hard-fought battle between longtime rivals for Nevada (23-5, 11-1 Western Athletic), who will move with Fresno State to the Mountain West for the 2012-13 season.
The loss dropped Fresno State (13-17, 3-9 WAC) to 0-3 this season in overtime games and 2-2 all-time in triple overtime contests.
Fresno State will have this week to move up to the No. 6 seed at the WAC Tournament. The 'Dogs need to beat either Louisiana Tech or New Mexico State, or have San Jose State lose to either Utah State or Idaho to secure at least the No. 7 seed.
All-session WAC Tournament tickets are available through the Bulldog Ticket Office or by calling 559-278-DOGS.
"We Are Your Team!" --- The `Dogs close the regular season by hosting Louisiana Tech (March 1) and New Mexico State (March 3). The Thursday night game is part of the "Pack the House" doubleheader challenge with women's basketball with the men's tip off slated for around 8 p.m. The game against New Mexico State features a special $21 single-game ticket package that also includes a hot dog and medium soda. You can listen to the 'Dogs all season on the radio dial at KMJ 580 AM and make sure to follow @RodneyTerry on Twitter for updates direct from the head coach.
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