MEN’S BASKETBALL: Rahon’s sharp shooting leads to first win

by Staff

David J. Olender / Photo Editor

By Edward Lewis, Sports Editor

LONG BEACH —- Head coach Steve Fisher and the San Diego State men’s basketball team knew they were going to need sophomore guard James Rahon’s 3-ball to win them at least one game this season.

They just weren’t expecting to need it in game one.

With SDSU in a second-half lull against Long Beach State on Saturday evening, Rahon stepped up and shot triple, after triple, after triple. His 14 points, including 11 in the second half, propelled the Aztecs to an 81-65 victory at the Walter Pyramid in front of 5,143 fans — the largest attendance for a sporting event in the Pyramid in LBSU history.

“He brings something that we lacked last year and that’s 3-point shooting,” senior guard D.J. Gay said of Rahon. “Him being on this team and being on the court with us is going to do nothing but not allow teams to double. They tried doubling the post, but every time they doubled, we kicked out and Rahon knocked down big shots for us.”

Rahon’s game-breaking 3s started at the 9:01 mark in the second half. For most of the afternoon, SDSU had struggled from behind the arc, and, more importantly, had struggled to shake off the feisty 49ers. The Aztecs led just 56-55 and the lead had changed hands 12 times.

But with one smooth stroke from the left side of the court, Rahon made the game 59-55. Then, after a defensive stop, Rahon used another 3-ball stroke to make the game 62-55. Finally, after one more defensive stop, Rahon buried his last 3-pointer of the night to give SDSU a 65-55 lead it would never give back. In a span of 132 seconds, Rahon picked up nine points and gave the Aztecs enough energy to cruise by LBSU for the final six and a half minutes of the game.

“It kind of gave me goosebumps,” Gay said of Rahon’s second-half, nine-point run. “James knocking down those three 3s in the end — that was a great feeling.”

David J. Olender / Photo Editor

SDSU’s night started out a little more unevenly than the team would have liked. LBSU is no pushover by any stretch — many pundits have picked it to win the Big West Conference this season — but still, the No. 25 Aztecs would have liked to have blown the 49ers out of their Pyramid early.

At halftime, SDSU was tied with the 49ers 42-42. Superstar forward Kawhi Leonard had zero rebounds. And the Aztecs’ team only shot one free throw.

But in the second half, thanks in large part to Rahon’s efforts, SDSU outscored LBSU 39-23. Leonard also piled up 12 boards in the second half to go along with a game-high 21 points and the Aztecs ended up shooting six more free throws, a sign of their willingness to set up their offense more in the post than on the perimeter.

SDSU (1-0) will face another tough opponent when it takes on Gonzaga at 8 p.m. tomorrow night.