On Valentine's Night, the Bulldogs tasted the sweet aura of love before feeling a heavy dose of heartache in a tough 79-71 overtime road loss to the New Mexico State Aggies on Saturday night in the Pan Am Center.
"This is tough for the team right now, but we played very well to start the game," head coach Steve Cleveland said. "Mychal Ladd played very well tonight. We just need to find ways to finish games."
Ladd earned his second career double-double with 22 points and a game-high 13 rebounds while draining three triples on the night. Junior forward Sylvester Seay netted 25 points, including 14 in the second half, and just missed his third double-double while grabbing nine rebounds. Freshman guard Paul George added 11 points and seven boards.
The game was a true test of wills as no lead was safe as the pace of the contest changed quickly.
Fresno State rebounded from a 10-2 deficit at the start of the game when the `Dogs blitzed an Aggie defense with a 20-5 run that started when Seay recorded five straight points by hitting a 3-pointer from the top of the key and slamming down a dunk in transition.
The Bulldogs led 31-24 at intermission, their largest lead of the game to that point. Ladd had scored a team-high 10 points and four rebounds during the first-half on 4 of 7 from the field. Seay added nine points at the halfway mark.
Ladd started the second half by swishing a 3-pointer from the wing to extend the Bulldog lead to 34-24.
The `Dogs led by as many as 11 points twice, the latest coming when Fresno State led 43-32 with 15:57 to go in the game.
But a feisty group of Aggies refused to go away and tied the tilt 46-46 with 9:54 to go and lassoed the lead back moments later on a steal-turned-lay-up by Young to put NMSU up 48-46.
Freshman guard Brandon Sperling answered on the next possession by driving into the lane and knocking down a jumper to even the score at 48-48 to set the stage for a seesaw battle during the remainder of the second half.
The Bulldogs wrestled back the lead with eight to go as Ladd found a flashing freshman point guard Bryce Cartwright for a transition bucket to place the `Dogs ahead 51-50.
With under six and a half minutes to play, Fresno State extended the Bulldog lead to six (56-50) when the `Dogs made it an 8-2 run with George draining a three from the wing and Seay beating the Aggie defense for a fastbreak basket.
As Fresno State led 59-55, George blocked a Gordo Castillo triple attempt from the corner, saved the ball from going out of the bounds and the Bulldogs continued their efficient work in transition as Ladd netted a floater from inside the paint to give the `Dogs another six-point advantage at 61-55.
At the 2:37 mark, Ladd put back an offensive board for a seven-point Bulldog lead at 66-59.
New Mexico State responded by going on a steady and stoic 7-0 run to tie the game at 66-66 with 23 seconds left in the contest that would send the decision to overtime as Seay and George each missed 3-point attempts in the waning moments of regulation.
The Aggies scored five points to open the extra session for a 71-66 lead, which New Mexico State extended to six before Seay knocked down his third 3-pointer of the game with just under two minutes to play in overtime and cut the deficit in half to 74-71.
Yet, that is as close as the Bulldogs would climb as the Aggies controlled the rest of the clock on their way to a 79-71 conference victory.
Fresno State fell to 10-16 on the season and 2-9 in WAC play while New Mexico State upped its season tally to over .500 with a 13-12 mark for the year and 7-5 in league action.
The game marked the third game in six days for the Bulldogs, who now return home for a nationally televised contest on ESPN2 with the Hawai'i Rainbow Warriors at 8 p.m. on Thursday night in the Save Mart Center.