San Diego State started very slow Saturday, then went cold again, but they nonetheless completed a difficult sweep through Colorado with a 70-60 win over Air Force.
The Aztecs (15-4, 6-1 Mountain West) entered the game with a chance to solidify their place atop the conference, thanks to New Mexico’s overtime win over Boise State Friday.
Yet they started sluggishly – missing two of their first 11 shots and falling behind by five – but then turned around and built a 15-point lead on the strength of a 20-5 run. It began with 5:10 left in the half and put SDSU up 39-24 at the break.
Air Force (12-8, 3-4 MW), though, was not done and thanks to an Aztec cold spell – more than seven minutes without a bucket – ate away at what had become an 18-point deficit.
Keshad Johnson stopped the slide with a three-point jumper to put San Diego State back up by 10, but the Falcons hung in until the one-minute mark when they finally cut the Aztecs’ lead to five.
San Diego State made five of their six free throws down the stretch, though, including four by Micah Parrish. Free throws and rebounds, in fact, made the difference – SDSU out-rebounded Air Force 45 to 25 and made 22 free throws to the Falcons’ four.
They also had 18 second-chance points while Air Force had none.
“We had to win it on the glass and win it at the foul line,” head coach Brian Dutcher told San Diego Sports 760.
Johnson paced San Diego State with 13 points, including on six of his seven free-throw attempts, and logged a double-double, with 10 rebounds. Matt Bradley, Lamont Butler and Darrion Trammell all scored in double figures.
Johnson, displeased with his recent performances – he pointed particularly to his 0-for-4 on free throws in SDSU’s home loss to New Mexico – told Sports 760 “I feel like I came back and gave my team my full effort.”
The Aztecs return to Viejas Arena to host another tough one, this time against Utah State (16-4, 5-2 MW), at 8 p.m. Wednesday.