March 12, 2014
|Head Coach Rodney Terry |
|Senior G Tyler Johnson
By Stephen Trembley
LAS VEGAS --- Late in the second half, Fresno State senior guard Tyler Johnson brought his teammates into a huddle near midcourt and the message was simple - the Bulldogs were going to find a way.
Facing a 15-point deficit with less than six minutes to play, Johnson and the Bulldogs' other senior guard Allen Huddleston led the Fresno State men's basketball team to a thrilling 61-59 victory over Air Force to open the Mountain West Basketball Championships at the Thomas & Mack Center.
"We knew it was going to be a really hard game today," Fresno State head coach Rodney Terry said. "We've been fortunate enough the first two times we played those guys, we shot the ball extremely well. We didn't do that today particularly well. But we had to dig really deep down the stretch there. Our guys hung tough. We found a way at the end."
For Fresno State, this one was all about heart and never giving up despite struggling offensively for much of the first 34 minutes. And to ignite the comeback, Terry turned to the Bulldogs' swarming full-court defense to provide the spark.
With 5:46 to play, Air Force's DeLovelle Earls converted a lay-up to put the Falcons ahead 56-41 and close to cruising into the quarterfinals before the 'Dogs mounted their charge.
"With about six minutes left and we were down by 15, I knew I didn't want to go out like that," Huddleston said. "I wanted to give it my all. My job is to come off the bench and give us a spark. I tried to do my best tonight and do my job."
Huddleston's defensive intensity helped fuel the relentless pressure and everyone turned up the dial.
"Fortunately, we were able to get a couple steals," Johnson said. "Hud got one, Velle (Marvelle Harris) got a couple. We were able to capitalize on them. That was the biggest thing. We got the steals and were able to finish them and make plays and put points on the board as opposed to getting those stops, and wasting those opportunities away. "
And on Wednesday night, Johnson, who is the Bulldogs' only player in his fourth year playing at Fresno State, seized the moment by hitting two 3-pointers, including the game-tying deep ball, in the final two minutes.
The first came with 1:34 to play and pulled Fresno State back within a single point and the second came just 18 seconds later well behind the arc on the right wing. The senior team captain finished with 19 points and tied a career-high with 12 rebounds to post his eighth double-double of the season.
While Huddleston, Harris and Johnson keyed the re-energized backcourt, Fresno State junior forward Alex Davis provided the presence inside and steady focus at the line. Davis scored 12 points while going 8-for-8 at the free throw line, including four of those free throws during the Bulldogs' game-winning 20-3 run to end the game.
"The game gets down to stops at the end of the day," Terry said. "We needed to pick up our pressure up the floor a little bit. They didn't handle it particularly well. We got some easy baskets off our pressure defense. We got a chance to go to the line and set our defense again which was key for us."
In the final seconds, Davis blocked a Tre' Coggins' shot with 4.1 seconds to play and Coggins missed his final shot as time expired. Coggins totaled a game-high 20 points to pace Air Force (12-18) offensively.
The victory over the 10th-seeded Falcons advanced the seventh-seeded Bulldogs (17-15) into a Thursday quarterfinal with No. 20 New Mexico (24-6) at 6 p.m. PT. The game can be watched on CBS Sports Network or heard on 940 AM ESPN Radio.
Notes: Fresno State 61, Air Force 59
Fresno State will take on second-seeded and No. 20/20-ranked New Mexico in Thursday's quarterfinal session at 6 p.m. PT.
With 19 points and 12 rebounds, Fresno State's Tyler Johnson registered his eighth double-double of the season.
Johnson's 12 rebounds ties a career high, which he previously set vs. Cal State-Northridge on Nov. 16, 2013.
As a team, Fresno State shot just 18-of-54 (.333) from the field. It is the second-lowest field goal percentage for any winning team in MW tournament history.
The 15-point comeback is Fresno State's largest comeback of the year. Before today, the largest deficit the Bulldogs had overcome was 12 points at UC-Irvine on Nov. 8, 2013.
The Bulldogs ended the game on a 20-3 run over the final 5:40 to seize the win.
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