LONG BEACH — Winning a game through the free-throw line hasn’t really been a trademark of Steve Fisher-led San Diego State teams.
In fact, in previous seasons it has been a thorn in the Aztecs’ side and a difference-maker in close losses.
The Aztecs shed that stereotype Tuesday night, going 22-for-27 from the charity stripe en route to their 76-72 win over Long Beach State. SDSU is now shooting 71.2 percent from the free-throw line.
“It’s important, no question about it,” Fisher said. “Especially the way the game is now being called we should be able to get (to the free-throw line) 25 to 30 times a game.”
Senior forward Winston Shepard came into the game shooting 75 percent from the line, and improved on that mark Tuesday, going 8-for-8 to lead the team in that department.
Most of the Aztecs’ free-throw success came in the second half when they hit 15 of 19.
Freshman point guard Jeremy Hemsley, senior center Angelo Chol and redshirt-freshman Zylan Cheatham combined to go 8-for-9 from the free-throw line.
“It’s just coach Fisher in practice, he’s telling us we’ve been shooting better at the free-throw line as of late … we’ve just been working a lot in practice,” sophomore guard Trey Kell said.
SDSU has shown this season that it will beat teams several different ways, whether it’s a lineup change, a sneaky zone scheme drawn up by Fisher or hot 3-point shooting.
But it’s been a while since the Aztecs were able to secure a lead in a tough road environment on the back of their free-throw shooting.
“You can’t give away points when you get there, and we’ve done a nice job of making free throws,” Fisher said.
Late 3s from Kell help guide Aztecs to win
With 7:45 left to go in the game, Kell’s stat line was nothing to write home about.
He was 1-for-6 from the field, 1-for-4 from the 3-point line and had a grand total of three points.
Not to mention the Aztecs lead had disintegrated as they were tied with Long Beach State 53-53 coming out of a timeout.
“I told him at one point, ‘Trey, I need you to be the best player on the floor, believe that you are and when you get your shot, take it,’” Fisher said.
With the Walter Pyramid as loud as it was all night, Kell answered the call from his head coach as he put the game out of reach with his stellar 3-point performance.
The 49ers took a one-point lead coming out of the timeout, but Kell then silenced the crowd with a contested 3-pointer to put SDSU up 58-56.
He struck again to give the Aztecs a five-point lead with a little over five minutes to go, and stuck the nail in the coffin with another 3-pointer to give the Aztecs an eight-point lead with a little over three minutes to go.
“We were struggling a little bit in the second half to score and I saw that first (3-pointer) go in and that first one gave me the confidence to make the next ones,” Kell said. “That first (3-pointer) gave me the good feeling for the rest of the game.
Kell finished the game with a team-high 13 points and finished 4-for-7 from beyond the arc.
“Malik’s just a young guy learning how hard you have to compete and how you have to concentrate, stay in a stance, how you have to treat every possession like it might be the last possession you play.” – Fisher on the maturation of sophomore forward Malik Pope.