Missed free throws lead to SDSU men’s basketball being stunned by Boise State, 66-63

by Anthony Reclusado, Assistant Sports Editor

In one minute and 40 seconds the San Diego State men’s basketball team went from recording their 15th conference win and avenging their lone home loss last season to Boise State, to suffering a critical dent in their resume for the NCAA tournament.

In that same span the Aztecs have done something they haven’t done in 164 straight games: they lost their focus in the final five minutes and were on the wrong end of the final decision.

As in any loss, this boiled down to miscues, and for the Aztecs (21-8, 14-2 Mountain West), it was seven straight missed free throws in the final 1:40 that allowed Boise State (19-10, 10-6 MW) to overcome a nine-point deficit and win, 66-63.

The Aztecs had their “Big 3” of senior forward Winston Shepard, sophomore guard Trey Kell and freshman guard Jeremy Hemsley all step to the charity stripe and one-by-one each of their attempts failed to find the bottom of the net.

“I guess you could say it is infectious,” Kell said. ” You see guys miss their free throws and you hear the crowd get restless as every free throw is missed. It can get in your head, but it is no excuse.

“If we made our free throws, we would have won the game.”

Aside from the missed free throws, Shepard, Kell and Hemsley had one of their worst combined nights as they accounted for 13 of the Aztecs’ 17 turnovers and 13 of the team’s 15 missed free throws.

“I feel like I let my team down tonight,” Hemsley said. “I played like a freshman and I looked like a freshman out there. I had stupid turnovers and did things I don’t normally do.

“I had a huge part as to why we lost the game.”

SDSU did have a chance with 22 seconds left and only facing a one-point deficit. The Aztecs would play hot-potato on the perimeter probing for a soft spot in the Bronco’s defense to exploit.

The result was a Kell turnover with only two ticks left and any real chance of a victory.

“To miss two free throws, have the ball in my hand to win the game and turn it over hurts just so bad,” he said.

Heading into the match, the game was hyped as “Blackout on the Madhouse,” but quickly turned into a black-and-blue slugfest as the Aztecs and the opposing Broncos were exchanging shots all game.

It was everything expected in a matchup of two teams desperate for a win, as BSU tried to improve their seeding for the MW Tournament and SDSU looked to continue to build their resume for the NCAA Tournament.

The 41 fouls and 34 turnovers were at times unbearable to watch for the 12,414 in attendance who made their displeasure known. But the Aztec faithful were up on their feet down the stretch as SDSU used a 16-2 run to what most thought was the proverbial nail in the coffin and filed out of Viejas Arena assured that the Aztecs already secured the win.

While Kell’s shortcomings in crunch time played a key role in the loss, he was also the catalyst for a huge SDSU swing in the second half. He scored 12 of his 17 points and recorded three assists in the second half.

In the first half, the Aztecs did their usual dance of feast or famine as points were at a premium for the  first 20 minutes.

This is nothing new for this year’s Aztecs, who have routinely pulled out to double-digit leads in a matter of minutes and watched as those leads vanished as fast as they were built. However, the blackout on SDSU’s scoring in the first half was one of their worst of the season.

Over a span of 6:04 the Aztecs halfcourt offense was bogged down by the Broncos 2-3 zone and was held scoreless, while tallying seven turnovers.

But per usual fashion, the Aztecs were able to focus in crunch time and cut an eight-point deficit to two on sophomore forward Malik Pope’s buzzer-beating three to end the half.

The Broncos showed little signs of missing star redshirt-junior James Webb III, as sophomore forward Chandler Hutchinson did his best impersonation of his older counterpart. Hutchinson put up a game-high 16 points on 8-for-11 shooting, including three rim-rattling dunks in only 17 minutes as he battled foul trouble.

The Aztecs play next on Tuesday in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to take on University of New Mexico.