Make it 3,661, and 6,183.
That’s how many days it’s been since the San Diego State basketball team has had a losing record, and how long they’ve gone since being sub-.500 after the opening game of the season.
The streaks nearly ended Thursday night, could have ended, maybe should have ended. But they didn’t, thanks to a spirited second-half comeback by the Aztecs with an assist from a soldout Viejas Arena crowd that willed them to a 65-63 victory and a 2-1 record in a game that compensated in sheer drama what it lacked in aesthetic quality (and made jump shots).
Rock fights aren’t pretty.
It ended with Arizona State freshman Jamiya Neal in the left corner attempting just the fifth 3-pointer of his college career as the clocked ticked to 3 … 2 … 1 while SDSU’s Matt Bradley, who had left the door open with a missed free throw at the other end, flew at him with a mix of hope and desperation.
“All of a sudden you look up, and it’s a scramble, and there’s a guy open in the corner,” Aztecs coach Brian Dutcher said. “We can’t give any look at the end of the game, but to their credit they moved the ball and found a guy in the corner for as good a look as you’re going to get with the game on the line. I’m glad we didn’t foul him and we escaped with a victory.”
Bradley turned and watched Neal’s shot sail long, then put his hands on his head in a visible expression of utter relief.
The final, harrowing minutes went like this:
The Aztecs trailed by a point when Trey Pulliam missed a free throw (a recurring theme) and Nathan Mensah went over the back of ASU’s Jalen Graham on the rebound, sending him to the other end for free throws. But Graham missed both, and Pulliam made a tear-drop floater in the lane – his only basket of the game – with a minute left for a 64-63 win.
ASU coach Bobby Hurley called timeout, and Sun Devils guard Marreon Jackson (16 points, seven rebounds, seven assists) drew a switch with the 6-foot-10 Mensah up top. He drove and was forced into a wild shot that Keshad Johnson rebounded … and had poked away.
The Sun Devils missed a 3 … and got another offensive board. They shot another 3, only for the scramble for the rebound to result in a jump ball with the arrow pointing to the Aztecs.
Bradley, inserted into the game despite a rough offensive night for the purpose of shooting free throws, was fouled with 8.7 seconds left. Make … miss.
All of a sudden, it’s a scramble and there’s a guy open in the corner.
Lose one, win one. The Aztecs played a game like this last week at BYU – can’t shoot, struggle on the boards, down to the wire – and lost in large part because of a corner 3.
After seemingly solving their woes at the free throw line, the Aztecs clanked 4 of 8 in the final 3:06 and gave up four offensive rebounds. That usually doesn’t get it done in a high-level game against a Pac-12 opponent.
But they held the Sun Devils (2-2) to 37.3 percent shooting, had a 37-31 advantage on the boards, got to the line 28 times (making 19) and committed only three turnovers in a disjointed second half that featured seven lead changes and five ties.
Four players scored in double figures, led by a career-high 14 by sophomore guard Lamont Butler, who got the start over senior Adam Seiko. Bradley had 12 points and eight rebounds. Nathan Mensah had 10 and nine. Pulliam had only four points but six rebounds and four assists.
The 3-point shooting was 28.6 percent (6 of 21), which, as bad as it looks, is nearly double what they entered the game beyond the arc. Mensah made the first 3 of his four-year career. Butler, who worked tirelessly on his perimeter stroke all summer, made two. So did Adam Seiko, who entered the game 1 of 7.
“I’m glad we made a few,” Dutcher said. “It was good to see. We opened the game like we’re a 3-point shooting team. For a team that’s really low in percentage, we weren’t afraid to take them. And that’s what I want. I want them to believe in them and, if they’re open, I want them to take them. I don’t want them to be fearful.”
The game turned not on a 3 but on a T. Johnson was whistled for a suspect foul on Jackson that looked an awful lot on replays like the ball slipped out of his hands without contact. Bradley saw the same thing and pointed to the video board above.
Apparently, that’s grounds for a technical foul now. That gave Jackson four free throws, two for the foul and two for the tech. He made three for a 39-30 lead with 16:52 lead.
But that merely woke up the Viejas crowd, and the team it was cheering for.
Pulliam: “If someone gets a tech, that’s just going to make us go harder and make us come together. That’s kind of what it was.”
Butler: “It gave us more fire. We knew we had to step it up.”
Johnson: “I didn’t foul him at all. I guess the ball went up in the air, he lost it, the refs made a bad call. I’m sure they’ll look at it (on film). Things happen. … We just had to overcome that adversity. The call on me, the technical, those are things we can’t control. We can’t let the refs basically determine the game.”
Barely two minutes later, the Aztecs led 42-39 behind a 12-0 run.
Back and forth it went. A 7-0 run got the lead back for the Sun Devils. A Butler 3 and a Bradley layup on the break made it 55-54, Aztecs. A deep 3 by Jackson made it 57-55, Sun Devils. A Seiko 3 make it 59-57, Aztecs. A Kimani Lawrence layup tied it.
“It was a hard-fought game,” Dutcher said. “You know, I don’t know if either team played up to what the coaches think their potential is, but both teams played hard and they competed at a high level. Sometimes that’s enough, and it was tonight. We competed and fought and toughed out a win.
“We’ll learn from it. It’s always better to learn from a win than a loss.”
Next up: UT Arlington at Viejas Arena on Saturday at 7 p.m. … It was SDSU’s fourth straight win against the Pac-12 and the first time they’ve won back-to-back games against the Sun Devils since the 1970s … ASU was without sophomore forward Marcus Bagley, who also missed last year’s 80-68 Aztecs win, also with a knee injury … Both teams had 11 turnovers, but SDSU managed 17 points off those miscues compared to ASU’s eight … The Aztecs are 25-1 in their last 26 games on CBS Sports Network … Mensah (back), Joshua Tomaic (sick) and Aguek Arop (hip) all missed several practices this week but all played … Dutcher went 11 deep again, although only nine played in the second half.
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