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.