SDSU basketball upset at home 49-43 by Little Rock

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SDSU basketball upset at home 49-43 by Little Rock

by Patrick Carr, Sports Editor

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The warning signs were there, they have been all season.

The bad 3-point defense, the huge drop-off on defense compared to last year and the bad shot choices that littered the stat sheets.

The only question was who would expose it next.

After a shaky 71-61 win over NAIA San Diego Christian College earlier in the week, San Diego State men’s basketball was exposed and run right off the floor 49-43 against Little Rock, a Sun Belt Conference team that went 13-18 last year with a fiery new head coach, Chris Beard.

This happened despite getting senior forward Winston Shepard back from injury and despite out-rebounding the Trojans 42-28, including 11-3 on the offensive glass, usually two important parts for SDSU’s success.

The critical part Saturday, as head coach Steve Fisher affirmed after the game, was the 16 turnovers SDSU committed in the game compared to the Trojans’ six, part of a lethargic Saturday afternoon effort.

“I really think we came out with no energy, we can’t win with the energy we played with, especially on defense,” junior guard Dakarai Allen said.

For an Aztecs team that had scored 71, 76 and 71 points in its first three games, the 43 points was a product of two things: the turnovers and a 28.3 percent mark from the field.

SDSU trailed 26-19 at the break after going 5-for-22 with seven turnovers. Meanwhile Little Rock didn’t give the ball away at all in the first half, which helped the Trojans make a 10-0 run to go up 19-8 with 8:35 left.

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Only five of the Aztecs’ 22 first-half shots came in the paint due to Little Rock’s zone defense.

“Thirteen of our first 22 shots were 3s and we made one or two,” Fisher said. “Early, we settled for a quick, OK shot.”

A 7-0 run by the Aztecs early in the second half culminating with freshman guard Ben Perez’s first of three 3-pointers energized the crowd of around 9,500 and gave SDSU the lead for the first time since 17:33 remained in the first half.

But Little Rock senior guard Jermaine Rutley immediately drove the lane unobstructed. The Trojans took the lead right back and called timeout.

That sequence exposed another weakness of SDSU’s.

“We’re not capable of making critical plays when needed,” Fisher said. “We fought, fought and fought to stay in the game. When one more play was needed they made it and we didn’t.”

After Rutley drove the lane, sophomore guard Trey Kell was whistled for an offensive foul in the paint after scrambling for the ball. The Trojans came down the court, made a 3-pointer and extended the lead to 34-30.

Perez hit yet another 3-pointer, this time to put SDSU up 36-34. Once again, Little Rock tied it.

With 4:14 left in the game, Perez hit another clutch 3-pointer, and once again, the Aztecs couldn’t put an exclamation point on it. Hagins replied to Perez’s long ball with a baseline drive layup followed by a bank-shot 3 with Allen’s hand in his face to put Little Rock up 43-41.

From there, Hagins hit two more jumpers to put the lead to 47-43 and sent the Aztec faithful streaming to the exits.

The loss is a big red wine stain so early on in the season on SDSU’s NCAA tournament resume. Little Rock’s RPI coming into the game was 347 out of 351 Division I teams and the Aztecs don’t play a high-quality opponent until Thanksgiving Day when they play No. 15 UC Berkeley.

“We need to treat this as a wake-up call,” Allen said. “We can’t let this loss, even though it’s a bad loss, especially on our own floor, lead to more losses because we still have a long season ahead of us.”

Little Rock was energized the entire game, partly due to Beard getting in the players’ faces during timeouts, saying that they were in a “street fight.” The Trojans, unlike SDSU, weren’t careless with their passes.

“We had multiple plays that were either turnovers, hard shots or missed open shots to give ourselves a chance to win a game where maybe you’d say the other team played better, but we could’ve won,” Fisher said.

The win could be program-defining for Little Rock, a school that’s gone to the NCAA tournament twice since 1990.

“It’s really big for us because of how much respect we have for the San Diego State program and for how much respect we have for Steve Fisher,” Beard said.

For once, the shrill sound of referees’ whistles didn’t fill the air at Viejas Arena. The teams were only whistled for a combined 31 fouls. Instead, there was a new noise when the final buzzer sounded: silent disbelief.

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