PROVO, Utah - A sold out cascade of white packed BYU's Marriott Center on Friday night to welcome their beloved former head coach home to Provo and the Bulldogs' competitive fire kept the game close early before the No. 24 Cougars took control and cruised to an 83-56 season opening victory.
"We had wide open looks and just couldn't make shots tonight," Fresno State's sixth-year head coach Steve Cleveland said. "I wasn't disappointed in our effort. This was the first time most of our guys have ever played at this level. We will get better and be ready to compete as we gain experience."
Steve Cleveland's return to the site where he resurrected the BYU program from 1997-2005 and established a perennial postseason contender came with a sense of respect and appreciation for a community that embraced him as one of their own.
"We did some special things when I was at BYU," Cleveland reflected. "It was our whole coaching staff and players who made it happen. I appreciated the welcome tonight as I made some great relationships during my time there."
This was the first game for Cleveland in Provo as the leader of an opposing team after leading the Cougar program for eight successful seasons and won 2003 Mountain West Conference coach of the year honors with five postseason appearances.
Fresno State opened crisply and applied an aggressive defensive gameplan against one of the nation's premier college basketball teams. The close early battle saw the Bulldogs use a Tim Steed fast break lay-up and Kevin Olekaibe banked in floater in the key for a 4-0 tally to even the score at 15-15. The Dogs moved ahead 18-17 moments later when senior Nedeljko Golubovic drained one of his two 3-pointers on the night.
That's when BYU started show why the Cougars' earned its preseason national ranking (No. 24) and advanced to the second round of last year's NCAA Tournament.
Preseason All-American Jimmer Fredette began knocking down shots to highlight a 28-8 BYU run, capped by the Cougars' Noah Hartsock 3-point exclamation mark at the first half buzzer, to push Brigham Young ahead 45-26 at halftime.
Golubovic did play one of his best halves of his four-year Bulldog career with 12 first-half points as sophomore Greg Smith ended up in foul trouble from the beginning.
After the break, No. 24 BYU (1-0) continued where they left off en route to the 83-56 win. Fredette finished with a game-high 24 points and Hartsock chipped in 21 points.
For Fresno State (0-1), the Dogs dropped to 13-13 all-time in road openers that were also the first game of a season.
Before the game, Cleveland received a heartfelt warm welcome from the BYU faithful. He made it a point to the passionate Cougar students for their loyal support during his time as the head coach at BYU from 1997-2005.
The sold out crowd of 22,700 marked the most fans to watch a Bulldog men's basketball game in 11 years and the third-most in program history behind 24,120 in a Jan. 25, 1999 game at Utah and 23,614 in a Dec. 18, 1998 earlier that season in the Georgia Dome against Georgia.
"We Are Your Team!" --- Fresno State will play Vanguard in the Dogs' home opener on Nov. 17 at 8 p.m. Season tickets are available through The Bulldog Foundation at www.bulldogfoundation.org.
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