Blue Devils end SDSU’s up-and-down season in Charlotte

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Blue Devils end SDSU’s up-and-down season in Charlotte

by Matthew Bain, Assistant Sports Editor

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Yesterday San Diego State basketball fans faced an unpleasant reality: Great shooting nights are an anomaly for this team.

Unfortunately for those fans, the Aztecs had one of their more common shooting performances, knocking down 33 percent as they lost 69-48 to No. 1 seed Duke University.

Duke took an early 18-6 lead mainly due to its smothering full-court pressure —something SDSU is used to forcing on its opponents.

“Not a lot of teams pressure like (Duke), so it’s a lot to do with their coaching, a lot to do with their players, but that’s just their style,” senior forward J.J. O’Brien said after the game. “We haven’t faced a style like that.”

The Aztecs ­— who started the game 0-7 from the field — then held the Blue Devils scoreless for the next three minutes, something few have been able to do against the team that scores nearly 81 points per game.

One problem: SDSU scored five points in that span and only trimmed the gap to 18-11 with 10:44 left in the half.

That’s when Duke freshman center Jahlil Okafor took over.

Two straight layups followed by an emphatic fast-break dunk set up by freshman forward Justice Winslow’s block. Then three more layups where Okafor made SDSU’s frontline look tiny and outmatched junior forward Skylar Spencer, the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year.

“I’ve played against big players before but I haven’t played against anybody that big, with that skill set,” Spencer said.

By halftime, the soon-to-be NBA center had 18 of Duke’s 37 points on 9-12 shooting.

Steve Fisher’s entire squad had 24 points on 10-32 shooting.

The Aztecs then began to do what they often do in the second half: dig themselves out of a hole.

Freshman forward Malik Pope led the charge, draining two straight 3s off the pick-and-roll with freshman guard Trey Kell to make the score 44-37 with 12:45 to go.

The harsh shooting reality soon came back to bite the Aztecs, though, and Duke outscored them 11-0 over the next six minutes to take a 55-37 lead with 6:43 to go.

SDSU never got within 15 points of Duke again and lost 68-49.

Most of the teams’ stats look similar. Both sides grabbed 33 rebounds and had about the same number of steals, blocks and turnovers.

The Blue Devils dished out 16 assists, though, compared to SDSU’s five, and picked apart a normally stout Fisher-led defense.

The Aztecs simply looked a step slower for most of the game.

CBS reported before the game that some Aztecs had stomach virus symptoms, presumably from the same virus Quinn got before the game against St. John’s University, but Fisher said after the game the players’ health had nothing to do with the result.

Junior forward Winston Shepard led the team with 13 points on 5-11 shooting, but four of those points came in garbage time when the game was long out of hand.

O’Brien finished his SDSU career with a typical J.J.-like game, contributing to every facet of the game and finishing with eight points, seven rebounds, two steals and an assist.

Pope finished with just the two 3-pointers and two rebounds.

Spencer struggled against the 6-foot-11, 270-pound Okafor and ended his junior season with a two-point, four-rebound performance. He did block four shots, though.

Okafor led all scorers with 26 points and Duke will play No. 5 seed University of Utah in the Sweet 16 in Houston, Texas on March 27.

Three seniors played their final game as Aztecs in this one: O’Brien, Quinn and senior forward Dwayne Polee II.

“(I told the team to) reflect back with pride on what you’ve done to continue to elevate San Diego State basketball,” Fisher said. “And I singled out the three fifth-year seniors, and where we were when they came and how much improvement we’ve made.”

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