San Diego State had this streak working, 156 men’s basketball games in a row it had won when leading with five minutes to go, and not often had it been challenged by Fresno State, not down here at Viejas Arena. In three trips since joining the Mountain West, the Bulldogs had been within a single-digit only once at that juncture and in the others they were down by plenty, 23 and 14 points.
But on Tuesday night they were right there, and closing. But an improbable end to regulation led to an improbable, and for the Bulldogs wrenching, ending in overtime.
The Aztecs, who had hit only 68.6 percent of their free throws coming and were 9 of 20 at the line in the first 40 minutes of basketball and are the worst three-point shooting team in the conference, hit 13 of 16 foul shots in the overtime and got a huge contested three-pointer from Trey Kell to escape with a 73-67 victory.
“What do you say on that?” coach Rodney Terry said.
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Down three with 8.8 seconds to go in regulation after Kell missed the second of two free throws, Marvelle Harris raced up the floor and launched a shot from the three-point line that was well short. But Cezar Guerrero flew in from the baseline to grab the offensive rebound, sprinted into the right corner, turned and knocked down a three to tie the score at 57 and send the game into overtime.
“Big-time shot,” Fresno State’s Karachi Edo said. “I told Cezar at halftime when we came out, ‘Hey, man, whenever you’re open, shoot it. You’re going to make a big shot.’ And he did.”
But once into overtime, San Diego State (13-6, 6-0) knocked down just about everything. Kell, who had hit only 60.5 percent of his foul shots coming in, made 2 of 2. Skylar Spencer, a 57.1 percent shooter from the line, hit 4 of 4. And the Bulldogs (12-7, 3-3) could not keep pace after Kell hit his first shot from the three-point line, which came out of a scramble off a baseline out of bounds play as the shot clock was expiring.
The basket gave the Aztecs a 65-61 lead with 2:24 to go. “I’m not going to lie, when I shot it, I thought it was going in,” Kell said. “But to make it when it was well-contested, there’s really nothing you can do on defense.”
“Tough,” Edo said. “We played all that defense and we guarded, and then he hit that big-time shot. But he’s a big-time player. That was a good play for Kell.”
Fresno State had chances after that, but made just one shot following Kell’s basket, a three-pointer by Paul Watson with 10 seconds to go.
Carter consequences – With backup center Terrell Carter in Fresno, out due to an administrative issue, the Bulldogs went with a three-man rotation of Edo, Torren Jones and Cullen Russo. They combined for 34 points, hitting 15 of 25 shots, with 24 rebounds including 10 at the offensive end.
“They were battling, man,” Terry said. “They’re a really good offensive rebounding team and we’re a really good offensive rebounding team, too. They had 16; we had 16. We lost the rebounding battle – we were minus-6 – but we’re growing. Like I said to our guys, let’s just continue to get better and continue to improve as a team. Just keep battling.”
With the overtime, Edo played a season-high 35 minutes and had his sixth double-double this season with 15 points and 14 rebounds, nine at the offensive end. Jones also played a season-high 37 minutes, hit 6 of 7 shots in scoring 13 points and had six rebounds. Russo got 18 minutes, scoring six points with four rebounds, four blocked shots and two assists.
The Bulldogs are in a holding pattern with Carter this week. He is able to practice with the team, but his availability for Saturday’s game at Air Force is to be determined.
“We’re just working through some issues in terms of Terrell completing some coursework that he needs for eligibility,” said Steve Robertello, senior associate athletics director for intercollegiate services. “It is what it is right now. You can always compete when you’re in between terms, but once you get to the start of the second semester you have to have your eligibility certified and that’s where we’re at now.”
The spring semester at Fresno State started Tuesday.
Harris harassed – Harris had a rough night against the Aztecs, who are leading the Mountain West in scoring defense and field goal percentage defense.
The senior guard hit 4 of 20 shots including 1 of 7 at the three-point line, but still had a big impact in finishing with 12 points, six assists, six steals and four rebounds.
“This team, they don’t give you any open looks,” Terry said. “You’re not going to get any clean looks. If you get a little bit of air space, you have to try run with that and try to finish. He really battled all night. I thought he was aggressive in terms of getting in the paint and attacking in the paint.”
Harris went in averaging 22.6 points per game in MW play, 19.6 overall.
“We used the game plan the (coaches) made (for us),” Kell said. “He’s a great player and scores at all three levels, so we just made sure it wasn’t just a one-on-one that it was a one-on-five. We had normal ball pressure and everyone was ready to help. We made sure that we had all of our defense focused on him.”
Et cetera – San Diego State forward Skylar Spencer set a Mountain West record for career blocked shots in conference play, passing UNLV forward Khem Birch with two in the first half. Spencer has 120 blocked shots in MW play.
▪ The Aztecs are now 113-12 at Viejas Arena since the start of the 2008-09 season. Their .904 winning percentage in that stretch is the seventh best in the nation.
▪ The Bulldogs had 16 offensive rebounds in the game and have now had 10 or more in five of their six Mountain West games.
FRESNO STATE AT AIR FORCE
- Saturday: 11 a.m. at Clune Arena in Colorado Springs
- Records: Bulldogs 12-7, 3-3 Mountain West; Falcons 10-8, 1-4 with a game Wednesday vs. Colorado State