Utah cut the lead down to 49-38, but it was as close as the Utes would get. After scoring just five points in the first half, leading scorer Kevin Olekaibe dropped seven consecutive points to extend the lead to 56-38. Everything was clicking for the Bulldogs, as they shot 64% in the second half and outscored Utah 33-to-14 in the final 14 minutes of the game.
In the final seconds of the first half, Kevin Foster grabbed a loose ball from the floor and laid it in as the buzzer sounded, giving the Bulldogs a 35-25 lead at halftime.
Fresno State headed into the locker room with all the momentum and it carried with Foster into the second half. The junior forward made three straight shots; scoring six of the Bulldogs eight points to open the half, giving Fresno State a 43-26 lead.
“We knew we had to come in and have tremendous energy today, great effort, and execute the things we needed to try and work on,” said Fresno State head coach Rodney Terry.
Fresno State’s defense disrupted the Utah game plan early, by making leading scorer Josh Watkins a non-factor in the first half. The senior point guard had averaged 18.8 points per game heading into the match-up, but the Bulldogs held him to just one point on 0-of-6 shooting from the field in the first half. Watkins finished the game with 11 points.
“I thought we did a fairly decent job,” said Terry. “We let him get going little bit in the second half. We did a really good job in the first half of taking him out and making someone else initiate the offense. Because they really struggle when he’s not the guy with the ball in his hands, getting going offensively.”
Utah limited Kevin Olekaibe to 15 points, but Utah’s defensive focus on Olekaibe opened the door for his teammates. Foster led all scorers with 16 points. Steven Shepp came off the bench to score 15 points, all in the second half, to go along with eight assists. Jonathan Wills also scored in double figures, scoring 11.
“When they’re chasing Kevin [Olekaibe] and worried about Kevin, it really opened up shots for other people,” said Shepp.
Foster had his best performance of the season scoring a season high. He shot 7-of-11 from the field. Foster says he is almost fully healed from an offseason injury, and his higher work ethic is paying off.
“Playing hard, playing really hard,” said Foster. “That was something I was lacking at first and I didn’t realize that. Coach talked to me and told me if you play hard then good things are going to happen, and that’s what I’ve been doing and it’s been working.”
Fresno State’s 30-point victory over Utah was the highest scoring margin versus a current Pac-12 opponent in school history. It was also the first win versus a Pac-12 opponent since 2006, but the Bulldogs will get two more opportunities versus Pac-12 competition next week, as they travel to Colorado and Oregon next week.
“For us it’s a big step forward,” said Terry. “It’s a great opportunity to compete against Pac-12 teams… It challenges our guys. We want to play a non-conference schedule that is very competitive and prepares us for conference play.”
Fresno State outscored the Academy of Art and Utah in their two-game home stand by a combined score of 167-107. The Bulldogs next game is at Colorado on Wednesday, December 7.
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