San Diego State (16-4, 4-2 MW) coaches and players wouldn't say before the contest against No. 15 New Mexico (17-3, 4-1) that it was a must win game.
But in actuality Steve Fisher and company had to win this game. The preseason favorites could not fall 2 ½ games behind UNM, the Mountain West Conference leader, with trips to Albuquerque, Las Vegas and Fort Collins left on their schedule.
Aztecs performed like there was no tomorrow in the 55-34 victory.
The Lobos were held to 34 points in the loss, their lowest point total in the shot-clock era.
"It started with how we chased our guards around," SDSU head coach Steve Fisher said about being successful on defense. "We gave them no clean looks. I was concerned about their size with the two big kids inside. We did a pretty good job of forcing them away from the basket and not letting them just pitch over us.
"We stood our ground when they tried to back us in. When Skylar (Spencer) came in, he's a shot blocker so he got a piece of a couple. Even though we didn't double, I think we had them concerned when we jabbed and faked at them. We helped one another really well."
New Mexico only shot 11-of-44 (25%) from the field and turned the ball over 17 times.
"I give (SDSU) a lot of credit for what they did defensively, but we've usually been much more poised than that," New Mexico head coach Steve Alford said. "We've been a very good road team, and hopefully, we'll continue to be a very good road team. But (SDSU) took us out of a lot of things, and we talked about wanting to work to get good shots, and I just didn't think we did that today."
No one played better on the defensive end than team leader and table setter Jamaal Franklin who held his high school teammate Tony Snell to 7 points on 2-of-7 shooting with 6 turnovers.
"For those that only look at a stat line, you don't appreciate what he (Franklin) brings to this team," Fisher said. "He's the soul of our program. I talked about what he had done before but if you're not in that locker room, if you're not out on that practice floor, if you're not on that bus, if you're not in the hotel, if you're not on that plane, you can't fully appreciate what he brings to this team.
"He played the best defense he's played since he's been at San Diego State and that permeated through everybody. We were saying that we were going to guard them, we were not going to give them easy looks and that's what we did."
After giving Franklin his much-deserved props, humble Steve Fisher credited his coaching staff for how well their scout was in this win.
"When you get into league play, you know what they're going to try and do," Fisher explained. "You know what you have to do to stop them. That's hard chasing those guys off those screens and picks and up and downs but that's the job description.
"If you want to win, you have to do it. It wasn't just a one-time thing. We've had it before where we do it for three possessions and all of a sudden there's a breakdown and wide open look. We didn't give them a lot of wide open looks today and that was because everybody knew what we needed to do and did it."
It was just a few games ago that forward J.J. O'Brien missed a few shots around the basket that contributed to the loss against UNLV.
"You always go home after a loss, look at the mirror and see what you could have done better," O'Brien said. "…I took it upon myself from then that I'm not missing anymore."
In back-to-back games the sophomore has kept his promise to himself and his teammates.
It was a career outing for O'Brien in the win versus No. 15 New Mexico. He had his first double-double in his Aztec career with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Both team highs on Saturday afternoon.
"I just wanted to play hard," O'Brien said of his game. "I had a couple of bad games in a row and I wanted to come back hard on rebounds. You can control your rebounds and how hard you are on the glass. I just wanted to work on the rebounds and that pretty much opened the rest of my game up."
Compete was exactly what the struggling transfer did in the victory. Seven of his rebounds were offensive and he added a steal with a pair of blocks.
"He has helped us to win the last two games," Franklin said. "Today, I feel like he won the game for us. Chase (Tapley) and I are usually the big scorers on the team but I think Chase and I only had eight points (Franklin had 10, Tapley has 8) each the entire game.
"When you have someone like (O'Brien) that can step up, contribute, score the points and rebound the ball, that shows you that he is a real soldier."
It was the second straight game that fifth year senior James Rahon started in place of point guard Xavier Thames (back) who was active and came off the bench.
"Xavier (Thames) has had minimal practice time," Fisher said. "Xavier and I talked about it. I'm not sure what was the best for us, whether we need to go with what we did last game or talk about you being in the line-up.
"He just said he'd rather do it this way. Xavier was the lead person on that. He just said to go with what we've got."
Fisher acknowledged if SDSU's athletic trainer Tom Abdenour said it was important important that Thames was loose and he should start, then he would have took Rahon's place.
"Tom (Abdenour) said he was fine," Fisher added. "When we talk pre-game, he doesn't sit down but stood a lot. He stood a lot in our time outs. He's working his way back and hasn't practiced very much so I think we did what was the right thing to do. Xavier was in favor of doing it that way."
Rahon finished with 6 points and 4 rebounds in 32 minutes.
Aztecs Buckle Down Defensively
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