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Balanced Attack Carries San Diego State Aztecs Past Air Force

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Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Good teams with one or maybe two top scorers are hard enough for many teams to guard and defeat, but when five players score in double-figures in a conference road game, the team trying to pull off the upset has almost no hope.

No. 13 San Diego State (14-1, 3-0 MWC) struggled early at Air Force Sunday afternoon, but got solid scoring efforts from five players in a 79-72 victory. The Aztecs are tied with New Mexico for second place in the Mountain West, a half-game behind conference leaders Nevada.

The Aztecs led by just four points at halftime in a low-scoring affair (31-27) that didn’t really fit San Diego State’s style. The second half was much more to the Aztecs’ liking, a 48-45 offensive festival during which San Diego State maintained an 8-10 point lead for much of the half.

The key to that was Air Force’s inability to ever key on a single Aztecs scorer. Four San Diego State starters and one off the bench scored at least 13 points, but none scored more than 18. The quintet combined to shoot 26-for-50 from the field, an impressive 52 percent, especially for a road game.

Forward J.J. O’Brien was the leader with 18 points, including 7-for-8 from the free throw line. Guard Xavier Thames, the lone backcourt player in San Diego State’s four-forward lineup, was next in line with 16 points.

Perhaps the biggest key, however, was actually the player who came off the bench to score 13. That was forward Matt Shrigley, who hit three 3-pointers on the day as part of a 5-of-10 shooting day from the field. Shrigley got bonus minutes due to the absence of starting forward Skylar Spencer, who played just 14 minutes and didn’t score.

Winston Shepard scored 14 points, and forward Josh Davis was the fifth man in the onslaught, finishing with 13. The five players combined to score 74 of San Diego State’s 79 points in the win. Air Force (8-7, 2-2) took the opposite offensive approach, as guard Tre’ Coggins led all scorers with 29 points, including 5-for-10 from 3-point range.

However, teamwork won out on this day. The Aztecs had assists on 11 of their 27 field goals and turned the ball over a mere seven times. They also grabbed 17 offensive rebounds and held a 39-30 rebounding edge overall. Performances like the one turned in on Sunday are a main reason why San Diego State is the main threat to win the Mountain West and why it is likely to make some noise come NCAA Tournament time.

Ed Morgans is an ACC Basketball Writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @writered21 and add him to your network on Google.

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NCAA Tournament Profile: San Diego State Aztecs

Record: 26-8

RPI: 26

BPI: 42

Conference: Mountain West Conference

How They Qualified: At-Large Berth

Region: No. 8 in the South

 

Another year in the Mountain West, and yet another year the San Diego State Aztecs were one of the conference’s top teams (tied for first place with the Boise State Broncos in the regular season conference standings).

The MW hasn’t been getting a whole lot of love this year, but this isn’t San Diego State’s first rodeo — not even close. In fact, most fans probably expect the Aztecs to make the tournament on a yearly basis now.

 

What You Need to Know:

Leading Scorer: Aqeel Quinn, Winston Shepard (11.1 PPG)

Leading Rebounder: Winston Shepard (5.3 RPG)

Leading Passer: J.J. O’Brien (2.5 APG)

Bad Losses: Fresno State, Washington

Good Wins: Utah, BYU, Pittsburgh, Wyoming (twice), Colorado State (twice)

 

Needless to say, the Aztecs challenged themselves this season, and got a huge win over Utah. They also played the Arizona Wildcats (only lost by two points) and Cincinnati Bearcats (lost in overtime). Both teams are also part of the field of 68.

Yeah, San Diego State certainly didn’t have an easy non-conference schedule, but that should only benefit it in the dance, a tournament that features an endless amount of talent and a boatload of teams with different playing styles.

The Aztecs made it to the Sweet 16 last season, but that team also had Xavier Thames. The NCAA tournament can be a weird beast, though, so it will be interesting to see if this version of San Diego State can go on a deeper run.

The San Diego State Aztecs are dancing!

Trevor Lowry is a Content Associate at RantSports.com. If you’re a tweeter feel free to follow him @TheTrevorLowry, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.

The San Diego State Aztecs will be making yet another appearance in the NCAA tournament.

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