Free throw troubles compounded the San Diego State men’s basketball team‘s problems in the 77-73 loss at home to Fresno State on Wednesday night.
The Aztecs (11-6, 3-3 Mountain West Conference) were trying to bounce back from their loss to Boise State on Saturday but couldn’t contain a Bulldogs rally, which erased a 10-point deficit for the win in front of 11,358 people at Viejas Arena.
Fresno State (14-6, 4-3 MW) was trailing 52-42 in less than five minutes into the second half when the Bulldogs slowly rallied back thanks to some big plays by Nate Grimes. Grimes, who scored 15 points, had 10 rebounds and four blocks, made a key block in the closing minutes of the game to secure the Bulldogs’ win.
With 21 seconds left in the game with Fresno State up 75-73, Grimes blocked a shot in the key by Devin Watson that would have tied the game. Fresno State’s Deshon Taylor, who led the Bulldogs in scoring with 22 points, recovered the ball and was fouled. He made both free throws to win the game.
“I felt like we were going to score on that play, I think Devin got a blocked shot,” SDSU freshman forward Jalen McDaniels said. “They played a good defense. They stopped us. Credit to them.”
Both San Diego State and Fresno State employed a similar playing style and game plan, but the Bulldogs were able to make more plays than the Aztecs did, coach Brian Dutcher said.
“They were able to stop us at the rim with some shot blocking,” he said. “We had a couple layups that we got to the rim, which we couldn’t finish. To their credit, they got in there and finished some of theirs.”
San Diego State also lost one of its star players in the closing minutes of the game. Malik Pope was kneed in the groin with 5:36 left and had to be helped off the court. The Aztecs’ free throw troubles added to the problem. SDSU made 24 of 36 free-throw attempts.
“In a close game, those are huge deals,” Dutcher said. “That’s hard work, getting in there and shooting them and then having the confidence to make them. We missed a couple down the stretch that would have been nice to have.”
McDaniels had 14 points and 13 rebounds, his fourth double-double. It was also his fifth-straight times scoring in the double digits. Trey Kell also scored 14 points, Matt Mitchell 13, Watson 11 and Pope 10.
Up next, San Diego State travels to New Mexico to face the Lobos at 5 p.m. Saturday.
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