Paul George let the game come to him in front of 7,889 at the Save Mart Center.
With Fresno State trailing 11-9, he hit his first shot attempt – a 3-pointer. He then hit a consecutive 3 soon after a three-point play that gave the Bulldogs a lead it wouldn't relinquish. He was just beginning as he finished with 30 points as the ‘Dogs beat first place New Mexico State for the first time since Feb. 10, 2007.
"We didn't expect Paul to come out here and have 30," said Fresno State head coach Steve Cleveland. "It's good to have him back."
FS pushed their first half lead to as much as eight, 38-30, with 4:46 remaining in the first half. But they couldn't build on the 6-0 mini-run and were outscored 8-3 to end the half.
The Aggies would tie the game at 41 just moments into the second half on Jonathan Gibson's fourth and final three-pointer of game.
With FS clinging to a 48-45 lead, George started feeling it once again. He hit consecutive three-pointers to give the ‘Dogs a nine-point lead with 13:30 remaining in the game. New Mexico State promptly called a timeout as the momentum had heavily swung back in Fresno State's favor.
Then it came to an abrupt halt.
Greg Smith, hammered while going up for a bucket, went down hard on a no-call with 12:49 remaining in the half. Cleveland called the injury a "bruised shoulder" after the game. Nonetheless, the ‘Dogs stayed poised and pushed the lead to 12 points after free throws by Ned Golubovic and George.
New Mexico State would use its outside game to cut the deficit to seven, 61-54, before George would knock down a pair of free throws after Hamidu Rahman was called for a technical foul.
The Aggies never got within nine points the final 7:48 of the game as the ‘Dogs reeled off a 22-10 run to close out the contest.
Smith finished with 16 points, eight rebounds and three assists in just 23 minutes of action. Sylvester Seay added 14 points. Mychal Ladd finished with 10, and Steven Shepp scored three but dished out a game-high nine assists.
Gibson and Jahmar Young led NMSU with 14 points each.
Fresno State next hosts Idaho on Saturday at 7 p.m.
Thursday's win was Steve Cleveland's 76th win as a Bulldog head coach, which ties him for 6th all-time with Gary Colson.
Greg Smith will have a MRI on Friday. Cleveland said if he were unable to play on Saturday, Ned Golubovic would start in his place.
Fresno State finished 85.7% (18-21) from the line, its highest mark in conference play and second highest of the season.
The Bulldogs forced 18 NMSU turnovers.
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