There is a common thread that runs through just about every one of the close losses Fresno State has suffered over the past season-plus – the list of losses by seven points or fewer is now 17 deep, after a 68-61 loss on Saturday to Nevada at the Save Mart Center.
At the offensive end, the Bulldogs too often have come up with empty possessions, a combination of poor decisions, poor shot selection, poor execution. But Coach Rodney Terry suggested on Monday they will do things differently when in tight late in games in running their offense through Tyler Johnson, who has played some point in the past, but primarily off the ball this season at the three and two.
‘’He’s a dual threat. He’s a hard guy to guard,’’ Terry said, after practice as the ‘Dogs prepare for a trip to Boise State. ‘’You have to guard him for a shot. You have to guard him from attacking the basket. We started playing through him a little bit last year, at the end of last year and clearly identified that he’s a guy that can not only create for himself, but create for others as well.
‘’The other night when we played Nevada, we ran a set for him to have a scoring opportunity, and he created a scoring opportunity not only for himself, but he got Aaron (Anderson) a wide open shot. You want to play through your playmaker and a guy that can make plays and that’s what he does.’’
That shot did not go down, but in those late-game situations the 6-foot-2 Johnson likely will have the ball in his hands more and more.
In the loss to Nevada, he got to the free throw line once, but did not get a shot through the final five minutes when the Bulldogs failed to answer four consecutive scoring possessions by the Wolf Pack and went from a tie at 54 to down seven at 61-54.
Johnson was not on the floor at the end of a 62-59 loss to San Diego State, going out in the first five minutes of that game with a sprained right ankle.
But it has been similar at the end of other close losses this season.
Johnson got one shot and hit two free throws in the final five minutes of a 58-51 loss to UC Irvine. After scoring on back to back possessions with 3:07 and 2:22 to play in a 57-54 loss at Southern Illinois, Johnson did not get another shot. He got only one shot – and knocked down a 3-pointer – in the final five minutes of a 55-53 loss at Texas to open the season.
But, Terry said, Johnson is ready to handle more in end of game scenarios.
‘’I think the experience has really helped him, the experience a year ago and the minutes he was able to play and log also helped prepare him for what he’s doing now,’’ Terry said. ‘’He’s only going to get better and better for it because the level of competition he’s playing right now.
‘’But he’s done that against Pac-12 schools as well. He’s shown he can do it.’’