After the most impressive performance of its season on Saturday, the San Diego State men’s basketball team got off to its ugliest start of the season.
Playing in front of arguably the toughest road crowd it will encounter this season, SDSU fell behind the New Mexico Lobos 10-0.
Thanks to some key shots from sophomore point guard Xavier Thames, however, the Aztecs trimmed the New Mexico lead to only one at halftime.
In the second half SDSU pulled away from the Lobos, led by as many as 14 points and claimed its 16th win of the season by defeating New Mexico 75-70.
It was just one more win in what’s becoming another impressive season for the Aztecs, who just defeated the two teams, UNLV and New Mexico, who were picked to finish atop the Mountain West Conference in the preseason.
The bench slows things down
The game didn’t start well, especially after New Mexico’s Drew Gordon threw down an alley-oop to open the scoring.
That two-point lead ballooned to 10 after a pair of threes and it looked like SDSU was in for a letdown after an emotional win against UNLV.
“I had the white towel, ready to throw it in,” head coach Steve Fisher said to KOGO 600’s Ted Leitner after the game. “It looked like we were going to get skunked.”
Fisher subbed in three players, Garrett Green, LaBradford Franklin and Deshawn Stephens, who helped settle things down for the Aztecs and brought the team back in the game.
“And then we brought in (LaBradford), who’s played the best he’s played, Garrett and Deshawn and we just slowed down a little bit, stabilized and got our legs about us and got back in the game,” Fisher said. “We were tough minded and it was necessary in this venue against that team.”
After falling behind ten the team tied it three separate times in the first half and took the lead for good after a Franklin three in the second half.
The sophomore point guard had his best game of the season. He scored nine points and made all three of his shots.
“He came in and was sensational for us,” Fisher said. “At both ends of the floor, was more than solid for us.”
Thames bounces back
After suffering a knee injury, it was evident Thames was still feeling things out in his first two games back in the lineup.
Against Chicago State, the sophomore scored four points and didn’t make a single shot.
Against UNLV, Thames went 2-of-11 from the field, scored six points and turned the ball over six times.
Against New Mexico it was a different story. Thames scored a career-high 22 points and hit three crucial three pointers in the first half. He only turned the ball over one time during the course of the game, too.
Thames looked like he did before he suffered his knee injury, which is good news for SDSU.
“He was (Xavier) at his best,” Fisher said.
Racking up quality wins
The Lobos and Aztecs entered the game with identical 15-2 records. New Mexico was favored before the game started and was playing at home.
But it didn’t matter to SDSU, who added another impressive win to its résumé.
The team has now defeated USC, Long Beach State, Arizona on the road, Cal, UNLV and now New Mexico.
The Aztecs’ only losses are to No. 3 Baylor and No. 18 Creighton.
There are good wins and no bad losses on SDSU’s profile. Nos. 11, 13 and 15 all lost last night. If the Aztecs can defeat Air Force on Saturday, it will be knocking on the door of a Top-10 ranking.
That is pretty impressive for a team who lost four of the five starters from a season ago and is in a so-called “rebuilding year.”
News and notes
Junior guard James Rahon didn’t take a single shot in the first half, but he came back strong in the second half. Rahon went 3-of-4 in the second half and scored eight points.
After starting slow, Jamaal Franklin settled down and scored 13 points, he also dished out five assists and two rebounds.
Junior guard Chase Tapley scored 12 points and had seven rebounds.
SDSU received contributions from all nine of its players tonight. The bench combined for 17 points, eight rebounds and two assists.
The win puts the Aztecs in a tie for first place in the MW with Colorado State.
SDSU will pick things up again at 7 p.m. on Saturday at Viejas Arena when it plays against Air Force, whom the Aztecs have defeated the last six times the Falcons have traveled to Viejas.