Tyler Johnson put back a Garrett Johnson missed three-pointer that gave Fresno State a 45-44 lead with 12:26 to play. While the Bulldogs wouldn't relinquish the lead, La. Tech tied it up at 52 and pressed the ‘Dogs until the final minutes.
"We challenged them at the halftime, the guys came out and guarded," said Bulldog head coach Steve Cleveland. "We got stops after stop after stop and that was the only way we were going to win this game. Regardless of what was going to happen, offensively, we knew had to get stops. Once we did, we got transition baskets. We got hustle plays. We got offensive rebounds. We hit some timely shots. None bigger than Ned's three and Ju's (Smith) little baseline jumper when the game was on the line. Both times it was a two-point lead."
The ‘Dogs may owe part of the second half resurgence to the unusual large crowd. The lower bowl, which seats about 9,800, was nearly full for the first time this season.
"I don't think anybody would understand how big a deal that group of people in that arena were tonight when you're 12 down," added Cleveland.
"This is something they haven't experienced…to have a college environment. The student section was wonderful."
Smith scored a team-high 18 points, but he wasn't quite efficient as usual from the floor hitting 4-of-8 shots. But he redeemed himself at the charity strip as he made a career-high 10 free throws (10-of-13). The Bulldogs made 23-of-29 free throws, including 17-19 in the second half.
Fresno State shot 44.7% from the field but 56.5% in the second half when they outscored La. Tech by 20. The Bayou Bulldogs out-rebounded FS 38-28 but committed nine more turnovers (21-13). Kevin Olekaibe added 14 points. Olu Ashaolu scored a game-high 23 points for Louisiana Tech.
"I'll give a lot of credit to La. Tech in the first half," said Cleveland. "They came out early on and put some pressure on us."
Fresno State fell behind 9-2 early making only 1-of-4 field goals in the first four minutes of the game.
Steven Shepp nailed the first of three 3-pointers of the games to get the ‘Dogs within two, 13-11 with 12:46 to play then Smith tied it up with two free throws.
La. Tech answered with a 12-0 run before Cleveland called timeout with 7:27 to play in the first half. Tim Steed answered with a three-pointer to spark a 7-0 run.
But Louisiana Tech would outscore the ‘Dogs 13-6 the remainder of the half to lead 38-26 at the break.
Fresno State next hosts Cal-State Bakersfield in a non-conference matchup on Monday at 7 p.m. PT.
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