After blowing a 12-point second-half lead on Monday night and losing to the upstart Saints in the opener of the College Basketball Invitational, the Bulldogs evened the best-of-three series with a convincing 89-75 victory on Wednesday night.
The teams flew on the same plane on the last leg of the cross-country trip back East, and when the Bulldogs got their first glimpse of Siena's Alumni Recreation Center, their eyes brightened after the awkward flight.
“I feel like gyms like this are kind of shooters' gyms,” said Tyler Johnson, who combined with Cezar Guerrero for 25 points in the decisive opening half. “Most of our practices are in a gym similar to this. We've got a good feeling for places like this.”
The Siena men hadn't played a home game in the cozy confines of the on-campus ARC in 17 years, and the constant cheers of the near-sellout home crowd of 3,177 had no effect on the Bulldogs (21-17), who play in the Mountain West Conference.
“I don't think the crowd was a factor,” Johnson said. “We played in hostile environments all year. We were ready to handle this one.”
Siena (19-18) won the opener 61-57 for the first road victory in the postseason in school history. The CBI title game is Saturday in the ARC.
“I tried to tell the players they were going to come back,” Siena Coach Jimmy Patsos said. “I warned our team, `You have an angry Bulldog, be ready for that.’ “
The Saints weren't.
This one was over at halftime as the Bulldogs dominated, building a 43-24 halftime lead that was much too large to overcome.
“We didn't hold up our end of the bargain,” Patsos said. “They have good players. These aren't just some guys.”
Allen Huddleston led Fresno State with 20 points, 12 in the second half. Johnson finished with 19 points, Paul Watson had 14, Guerrero 13, and Marvelle Harris 11.
Brett Bispin led Siena with 20 points and Marquis Wright had 14. Leading scorer Rob Poole had seven points and fouled out.
Siena was allowing 53.2 points per game in the tournament and holding opponents to 35.3% shooting from the field and 25% from beyond the arc.
Fresno State ignored the chants of “Defense! Defense!” from the fired-up home crowd with a stunning display of shooting after a sluggish start.
The Bulldogs were 16 of 21 (76.2%) from the field and 6 of 10 from beyond the arc in the first half, notching 10 assists and outrebounding the Saints 18-7. Fresno State finished the game 23 of 36 (63.9%) and 8 of 15 from long range, most of them open looks.
Fresno State went up 10-6 on a 3 from the left corner by Johnson with 13:33 left in the opening half, and after Lavon Long hit for the Saints, the Bulldogs went into high gear.
Guerrero scored twice and fed Huddleston for a layup to key a 13-2 spurt punctuated by a three-pointer from the left side by Huddleston that gave the Bulldogs a 26-13 lead with 6:02 left.
And they weren't through.
Karachi Edo converted a tip off a missed 3-pointer by Johnson and followed with a dunk for a 16-point lead. Guerrero then drained a pair of 3s and four straight points by Johnson in the final minute extended the lead to 43-21.
Oliver's 3-pointer for the Saints at the buzzer narrowed the lead to 19, but another comeback like Monday night never materialized.
The Saints had their chances, but shot 10 of 28 (35.7 percent) in the first half, their frustration peaking with five straight misses at the net on one possession while trailing by only six.
Siena fell behind by as many as 26 in the second half before coming alive. A layup by Oliver and a slam dunk by Bispin started a 14-1 surge, and Oliver's 3 from the right corner finished it, narrowing the gap to 63-50 midway through the half. The Saints never got closer.
“We were in a better attack mode,” Fresno State Coach Rodney Terry said. “They took it to us (Monday night). I thought our guys responded.
“We've grown as a team all year long. We started 1-7 in conference and we bounced back."