It was a tale of two halves for the CSU men’s basketball team on Saturday night in San Diego.
The first half saw the Rams (19-11, 9-7 MWC) weather a strong shooting performance by No. 9 San Diego State to start the game. But a strong defensive response helped CSU lead for much of the opening half.
By halftime the two sides were tied 27-27. It looked like the Rams had found the recipe for a successful upset on the road.
The wheels came off on both ends of the court after halftime, as the Rams fell 66-48 to the home-standing Aztecs.
Turnovers plagued the Rams in the second half, leading to uncontested shots that got the Aztecs (29-2, 14-2 MWC) into a scoring rhythm. The Rams committed 15 turnovers, resulting in 25 points for the Aztecs.
“I thought (SDSU’s) defensive pressure was as good as I’ve ever seen it,” CSU coach Tim Miles said. “You can’t let your opponent run offense off your offense, or you’re in trouble. That’s what happened tonight.”
Defense was another struggle for CSU in the second half, allowing the Aztecs to shoot 46 percent from the field. SDSU managed to convert its opportunities at the free-throw line as well, missing just one of 19 attempts.
“I just thought SDSU really played well. They’re an excellent team,” Miles said.
The Rams found it difficult to get into a flow offensively because of the turnovers, and were outscored 39-21 in the second half, shooting just 36 percent from the floor including 2-for-12 from the three-point line.
CSU was unable to get within eight points after a D.J. Gay three-pointer opened up a 46-36 lead with 11:16 to play.
Forward Andy Ogide was the only member of the Rams to score in double digits with his 11 points and seven rebounds. Sophomores Wes Eikmeier and Greg Smith combined for 17 points in the loss.
Aztecs’ NBA prospect Kawhi Leonard played a well rounded game for the Aztecs, nearly earning a double-double in the first half alone. Leonard finished with 17 points, 12 rebounds and two assists.
“That’s as well as I’ve ever seen Kawhi play, and I can see why they’re talking that he’s an NBA lottery pick because he was really sharp,” Miles said.
Senior night and a chance for a share of the Mountain West Conference regular season title with Brigham Young had the SDSU crowd fired up, contributing to the second half explosion for the Aztecs.
“It was an amazing atmosphere, but I thought our guys handled it pretty well,” Miles said. “I don’t think we handled the physicality of SDSU’s defense.”
The Rams now enter the conference tournament as the No. 4 seed, and will face New Mexico Thursday at 3:30 p.m. in Las Vegas, Nev. The game will be televised on The Mtn. and CBS College Sports.
Assistant Sports Editor Cris Tiller can be reached at email@example.com.