49ers fall short of gold as Aztecs win 60-59

by Rafael Avitabile, Staff Writer

The No. 16 San Diego State men’s basketball team held on to beat California State University, Long Beach 60-59 in a thriller on Wednesday night. Down by as much as eight points midway through second half, SDSU put together a late surge to secure the win.

The Aztecs began the game with turnovers on each of their first three possessions. SDSU turned the ball over 12 times in the first half. Of the seven first-half team fouls called on the Aztecs, six were charges. Apparent carelessness with the ball and fouls on the offensive end squandered any opportunity SDSU had to capitalize on its 21-9 rebounding advantage in the first half.

The Aztecs’ defense was the star of the first half, holding the 49ers to just 30.8 percent shooting from the floor. After senior forward David Samuels’ jumper at the 15:55 mark put LBSU up 5-2, SDSU clamped down in man coverage and held Long Beach scoreless in its next nine possessions. The Aztecs put together a 13-0 scoring run in the 7-minute, 29-second stretch and pushed their lead to 10 points. LBSU faced a 12-point deficit, its largest of the game, with four and a half minutes left to play before four Aztec turnovers helped them on 10-2 run to close the half.

Despite going 0-8 from 3-point territory in their last game against Stephen F. Austin University, more than half of the 49ers’ shots against the Aztecs were from deep. In the first half Long Beach was 8-26 from the floor including 5-14 on 3-pointers.

“We played a good basketball team tonight,” head coach Steve Fisher said. “When they make threes they’re a better basketball team, and they made enough of them tonight to make it very difficult on us and very interesting down the stretch.”

The long-range shooting barrage from Long Beach continued in the second half and helped the 49ers to push their lead up to eight points with 9:24 left to play. The Viejas Arena crowd went relatively quiet as the deficit remained and it was looking as if the Aztecs were in dangerous waters, but once again it was the SDSU defense stealing the show.

Senior forward Winston Shepard III tipped in a missed shot to cut the Long Beach lead to five, and senior forward J.J. O’Brien intercepted a pass in the backcourt on the ensuing possession leading to a breakaway layup. Viejas Arena had the next 30 seconds following a LBSU timeout to erupt with noise and set the tone for the rest of the game.

After the two teams traded baskets, senior guard Dwayne Polee II sunk a 3-pointer as the shot clock expired, tying the game with 3:15 left to play. With the Arena buzzing, it was Polee sending the sold-out home crowd into further frenzy with a block on a 3-point shot attempt from Long Beach sophomore guard Branford Jones. Polee II scored seven of the last nine SDSU points, including two big free throws with 15 seconds left to make it a two-score game.

LBSU senior guard Mike Caffey hit a step-back three with five seconds left to bring the 49ers within one, prompting Long Beach to foul on the next Aztec possession. After O’Brien air-balled the first free throw, the senior missed the second attempt on purpose to force the 49ers, who were without any timeouts, to try and get a good look off of a defensive rebound rather than an inbound play. Long Beach got the rebound and its last-effort heave struck the front of the rim and was no good.

“I think sometimes you come in and there’s relief that you’ve won,” Fisher said. “It was not that tonight. There was genuine enthusiasm, energy, and excitement because we won that game and it felt good for all of us.”

SDSU will have a whole week to rest and prepare for its next game in the Midwest as the Aztecs go on the road to take on the University of Cincinnati at 6 p.m.on Dec. 17

Read Senior Staff Writer Partick Carr’s column reviewing the game.