#MWMadness: Harris Helps Guide Fresno State into Championship Game

 

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By W.G. Ramirez
Special to TheMW.com

 

LAS VEGAS - Mountain West MVP Marvelle Harris and Fresno State coach Rodney Terry embraced, in jubilation, between radio interviews.

And while they'd like to do the same one more time before the weekend ends, it seemed fitting after a come-from-behind win.

The second-seeded Bulldogs erased an 11-point deficit midway through the first half, and held on to defeat No. 6 seed Colorado State, 64-56, in the semifinals of the 2016 Mountain West Men's Basketball Championship.

Fresno State will meet No. 1 seed San Diego State for the title on Saturday at 3 p.m. PT, with the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament at stake.

Harris scored 19 to lead the Bulldogs, while Karachi Edo added 14 and Julien Lewis scored 12.

"They were playing their best basketball of the year," said Fresno State coach Rodney Terry. "We knew we were going to be in a dogfight tonight from start to finish. We had to compete at a very high level for 40 minutes."

Despite boasting the league's top scoring offense, averaging 80.1 points per game, Colorado State finished missed 37 of its last 42 field-goal attempts, en route to a 13-for-57 (22 percent) shooting performance on the night. The 56 points scored by the Rams tied a season-low for points in a game.

After missing 18 straight field goal attempts, Fred Richardson's put back ended the skid for the Rams, cutting Fresno State's lead to just six early in the second half. But the Bulldogs were in the midst of a 14-2 run, and eventually lengthened their lead to 46-35.

"I think we practice taking away the shot," Harris said. "A lot of players when they see the initial hand in their face, it lets them know they're not open anymore. It's getting in there, taking away the initial shot and then sitting down guarding. I think it took away a lot of shots that a lot of teams usually give them."

Yet while Colorado State's futility continued, Fresno State battled shooting woes of its own at one point, as the Bulldogs couldn't seem to put the Rams away. Fresno State saw an 11-point lead with 13:03 left in the game, shrink to three with 5:18 to play.

The Rams had a chance to make it a one possession game with about 30 seconds left in the game, by Richardson turned it over in traffic, and just as Edo snatched the ball he was fouled and went to the line, where he promptly canned both free throws to extend Fresno State's lead, 62-56.

Fresno State shot 37 percent (20-of-54) for the game, including 5-of-19 (26 percent) from beyond the arc.

"It was a tough one, we didn't play our best basketball, but we know we're capable of playing better," Harris said. "Tomorrow, in order to win the game, we are going to have to play our best basketball. (San Diego State is) a team who plays great defense. We're going to have to make plays and also stop them. We know they go to the glass hard, block out, stop them from getting second-chance points."

Colorado State was led by John Gillon, who scored 13 points, but 10 of them were from the free-throw line, as he shot just 1-of-12 from the floor. Joe De Ciman and Fred Richardson each had 11 and Antwan Scott also got in double digits for the Rams, scoring 10 points.

"We usually get the opponent's best shot," Colorado State coach Larry Eustachy said. "You look at the stats, we out-rebounded them. We beat them in areas that is really just hustle. But I thought both teams played really hard. And it's amazing when you can shoot 22 percent and be in it in the last minute."

Early on, Fresno State suffered through a 2-for-10 shooting slump and fell behind, 20-9, during which Colorado State shot 50 percent from the field, connecting on 7-of-14 attempts.

The Bulldogs finally made a run, going on a 15-5 tear to cut the lead to one, 25-24, as Colorado State missed eight straight field goal attempts and went through a four-minute scoreless drought until John Gillon made two free throws with four minutes left in the half. The Rams' futility from the floor continued, as they closed the half missing 13 in a row, while Fresno State used a 23-7 run to pull within one at the break, 33-32.

 

Willie Ramirez is a Las Vegas-based freelance reporter and Southern Nevada correspondent for The Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter: @WillieGRamirez