The last time Fresno State's Allen Huddleston sank a game-saving shot, the 6-foot-1 guard was still playing for the University of Pacific.
Having already forced overtime at UC Irvine by hitting three free throws with 1.2 seconds left in regulation, Huddleston then sent that Feb. 2011 game into double overtime with a game-tying 3-pointer at the end of the first extra session.
Huddleston had the chance to torment UC Irvine again on Friday night, and once again he didn't disappoint. He answered a go-ahead 3-pointer by UC Irvine's Alex Young with a buzzer-beating shot from just past midcourt, sending Fresno State to an unlikely 98-97 overtime victory over the Big West favorite Anteaters.
"It just seems like there's something about the Bren Center and me making game-ending shots," Huddleston said by phone late Friday night. "That was the last time I made a shot like this, and it was in the same building against the same team. It's funny how things happen like that."
It seemed unlikely Fresno State would have a chance to win its season opener at the buzzer considering how much went wrong most of the game. The Bulldogs rallied from a double-digit second-half deficit despite allowing UC Irvine to hit better than 50 percent of its shots, to win the rebounding battle by 13 and to score 40 points in the paint.
Huddleston said his initial plan as he was dribbling the ball up court at the end of the first overtime was to try to draw a foul the way he did in the 2011 game, but referees didn't blow their whistle this time. Instead Huddleston had to throw up a prayer, watch it bank in off the glass and then endure an excruciating wait as the referees reviewed whether he had beaten the buzzer or not.
"I was very, very nervous," Huddleston said. "The coaches kept telling me, 'You got it off in time, You got it off in time,' but you're never 100 percent sure until the refs put their hands up and say the basket is good. Once they did that, our whole bench and everyone was just so excited from getting the win."
The road win was an ideal start to the season for a Fresno State team that built momentum with a strong finish last season but endured a difficult offseason. Promising center Robert Upshaw was dismissed from the program, guard Kevin Olekaibe transferred to UNLV and forward Braeden Anderson was injured in a serious car wreck.
Fresno State lost numerous close games like this one during last year's 19-loss season, but the Bulldogs managed to claw back Friday night thanks to huge games from their guards. Marvelle Harris had 30 points, Oklahoma State transfer Cezar Guerrero had 23 and Huddleston had 12 off the bench, including the biggest shot of the game.
"We lost so many games last year by four or less points and we've always been on the cusp of getting over the hump," Huddleston said. "Finally, tonight, it was huge for our program to get over that hump. We hit shot after shot. Nobody shied away from the moment. We worked hard together, and it just so happened I ended up taking the last shot."
- - - - - - -