SDSU’s bigs carry team to victory

by Agustin Gonzalez

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Peter Kluch / Senior Staff Photographer

Peter Kluch / Senior Staff Photographer

Although the San Diego State men’s basketball team didn’t play anything like the No. 6 team in the country for much of the game in Saturday’s matchup against Air Force, SDSU still won by 12 points. On the road. At 6,035 feet above sea level.

With normally steady floor general D.J. Gay struggling (3-12 from the field), the Aztecs (27-1, 12-1 Mountain West Conference) had to rely on its big men to get the 70-58 win against the Falcons.

Sophomore forward Kawhi Leonard (18 points, 15 rebounds) and senior Malcolm Thomas (20, 13) had big nights against an outclassed Air Force front line, and the Aztecs as a whole had a 50-27 edge in rebounds. SDSU had 21 offensive boards that led to 19 second-chance points.

“We did a great job of staying with it,” head coach Steve Fisher said after the game. “We missed a lot of shots inside, but we did a great job of getting second, third and fourth opportunities with our length,
athleticism and aggression.”

Losing 21-18, the Falcons’ Michael Lyons had eight points in a 10-0 run that gave Air Force (13-12, 4-8) its largest lead of the night at seven with 4:02 left in the first half. But the Aztecs followed up with an 8-2 scoring stretch of their own to cut the deficit to one heading into halftime.

Following intermission, SDSU came out and worked to a 12-point lead after sophomore guard James Rahon hit a three at the 7:54 mark.

That’s when, for the third consecutive game, SDSU held off a late surge from an opponent and did just enough to win. SDSU’s final 11 points came on free throws, which bailed out its poor long range shooting down the stretch. The Aztecs also tightened up their defense, which held the Falcons to 23 percent shooting in the second half.

“We expected a hard-fought game from a team that plays everybody tough,” Fisher said. “We did a better job, defensively, in the second half and allowed us to get a victory.”
As Texas and Pittsburgh showed on Saturday, even a Final Four-caliber team getting a win on the road late in the season isn’t such an easy task.

Texas (No. 3) and Pitt (No. 4) lost against unranked opponents, which means this Saturday’s matchup with BYU could feature two top-5 teams clashing at Viejas Arena. Not only that, but the game will most likely decide the MWC title with both schools having only two games remaining.

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