The Final 223 Seconds
It was 73-73 with 3:43 left to play. No. 15 San Diego State (14-3, 2-1 MW) fought all the back from a double-figure deficit in front of 12,414 fans at Viejas Arena. Everything changed in those final 223 seconds. The first possession USC transfer Bryce Dejean-Jones made one of two free throws to give UNLV (15-3, 2-1) a lead that they would not surrender. SDSU answered back as J.J. O'Brien got fouled sending him to the line for one-and-one. He missed the front end and Anthony Marshall grabbed the defensive rebound. The Rebels came down using most of the shot clock that resulted in a contested jumper for Dejean-Jones. That's when things went wrong for the Aztecs as UNLV's 6-foot-9 forward Khem Birch tipped in the miss to push the disadvantage to three. Aztecs followed the miscue with a quick good looking three-pointer by Jamaal Franklin that didn't fall. O'Brien grabbed the offensive board and kicked it back out to Chase Tapley for another three attempt. Once again it was off the mark but the home squad received one more shot at it. Franklin took it to the cup, missing at the rim and Justin Hawkins tore down the board with 1:55 left to go, took it the other direction. UNLV would use the entire shot clock, again, for another contested beyond the arc attempt by Dejean-Jones that fell short. The loose ball fell to the great positioned Hawkins who went straight back up with it for two points. Freshman Winston Shepard scored his final bucket of the game with 1:08 to cut the deficit back to three. San Diego State was in desperate need of a stop. The Aztecs got the necessary stop as UNLV used the entire shot clock, yes again, and Birch found himself with inside position under the cup and no bigs around. He grabbed the offensive board using his length and went straight up with it for the final two-point blow with 25.4 seconds to go. Sounds like a broken record? That's because it is. UNLV ultimately won the game 82-75 due to the inability of SDSU to grab defensive rebounds down the stretch. "They (UNLV) made those plays down the stretch and we didn't," SDSU head coach Steve Fisher explained. "I'm proud of our fight and effort especially in the second half. We need to now clean up what we didn't do well, but leave it on the doorstep." Questions would surface postgame. Why did the Aztecs stick with the small lineup of Winston Shepard, James Rahon, Chase Tapley, Jamaal Franklin and J.J. O'Brien? Well starting forward Deshawn Stephens left the game after receiving a hit to the face. "DeShawn (Stephens) got poked in the eye," Fisher said. He's got a knot under his eye, but he's OK. He's fine." Backup big man Skylar Spencer was also missing in action due to an undisclosed injury. "Skylar (Spencer) was OK," Fisher explained. "He got hurt and asked to come out and then we didn't put him back in." The lack of a large body could have made the difference in the final possessions but it seemed that SDSU had no options. Fisher understandably stuck with the lineup that was working before the final 223 seconds. "Obviously, a bigger body in there could have possibly gotten us a defensive rebound," Fisher said. "I thought we made some good plays with the group we had in and we said let's just ride with what we got." While none of these questions will be thoroughly answered enough for the Aztec faithful, the loss will only help during conference play and mostly importantly March Madness. "I told our team, one of the fibers of this program has been our ability to be resilient and not lose back-to-back games," Fisher described the locker room scene after the game. "Before I could say anything, Jamaal Franklin made the comment, ‘No one is going to go undefeated in this league.' We will have that resolved. We will have a hard game on Saturday at Wyoming. Any game you lose is hard, but we got beat by a very good team." Shepard Blossoming Freshman Winston Shepard stepped up in the largest game, rivalry wise, of the season with 18 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists and a pair of steals in 24 minutes. He also made 10 free throws by getting to the line 12 times. "I thought Winston (Shepard) played very effectively," Fisher said. "He played with no fear. He used his size to his advantage and got into gaps. He had opportunities to go to the rim and got to the rim and shot 12 free throws." CBS national college basketball analyst Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) tweeted during the game: "Every time Winston Shepard laces up his sneakers, he gets a little more confidence. Kid has scary potential." In his last 10 games the highly touted freshman has 31 assists and 13 turnovers. Finishing Notes -The Rebels won the rebounding battle (43-to-31) and outshot the Aztecs (51.6%-to-38.8%). -Aztecs guard Xavier Thames was held scoreless on 0-for-5 shooting and did not see the floor in final 5:53. "I don't think X was X physically," Fisher said of Thames who has been dealing with a back injury. "He would never want to use that as a reason but I don't think he was himself. We got a lot of guys that can play. When we got going with that combination we just said lets go with what we got in there." -There were over 26 NBA scouts/team personnel at Viejas Arena on Wednesday night including Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey and New Orleans Hornets GM Dell Demps. -SDSU forward Jamaal Franklin had 27 points, 7 rebounds and guard Chase Tapley finished with 16 points. -UNLV guard Anthony Marshall sliced up his opposition for 20 points (8/13 FG, 4/7 FT), 8 rebounds and 5 assists. "Anthony Marshall got to the rack and free throw line and did a good job," SDSU forward Jamaal Franklin said. "I would not say he was a problem. He did his job, but you can't stop everyone in one game. You can't worry about shutting down a total of 11 guys in one game. Somebody is going to do well and you can't worry about that. We just have to move on." -San Diego State head coach Steve Fisher addressed the media about staying in the Mountain West Conference: "It's nice to know for all of us that now it appears that we've got some stability of where we will be next year. I'm the only guy that's been here since the beginning of the Mountain West. Coaches have come and gone. I'm the lone dog that has been here for 14 years as a coach. I value the quality of the league. It's getting great recognition. Now we know this is where we're going to be and we'll make it work. This is a great league and we're proud to be a part of it. We know we are going to continue to be a part of it. This is a really good basketball league now. This league could go to any league in America and be competitive."