Gaines Stunned as SDSU Loses Heartbreaking Opener
Several minutes after the game had ended, Coach Smokey Gaines emerged from San Diego State’s locker room shaking his head.
Gaines still was trying to figure out what had happened as SDSU lost its season opener to Louisiana Tech, 74-72, in the Sun-Met tournament Friday night.
In Louisiana Tech’s locker room, Charlie Brown was shaking his head for another reason. He still couldn’t explain why he was so open to make the game-winning shot from 18 feet with three seconds remaining.
“That’s what I’m trying to figure out,” Brown said. “They were playing a 2-3 zone and put a lot of pressure on the point guard. He passed to me, and I happened to be wide open.”
Gaines said his defense was positioning itself under the boards for the rebound. However, there was to be no rebounding on the shot--or on the scoreboard--for the Aztecs.
SDSU will play Eastern Washington in the tournament consolation game at 6 tonight with the championship between Fresno State and Louisiana Tech to follow. Fresno State beat Eastern Washington, 62-50, in Friday’s other game.
Though a man named Charlie Brown was getting credit for Louisiana Tech’s win against SDSU, Gaines thought his team’s poor free-throw shooting made the difference.
SDSU was 14 of 26 from the line and missed 5 of its last 6 free throws in the final 5 1/2 minutes, including four shots on the front end of one-and-one situations. Creon Dorsey, a 66% free throw shooter last year, missed two key free throws in the final 2:17.
“We missed our free throws and their man made a 20-foot jumper to beat us,” Gaines said. “This is the kind of season it’s going to be.”
Going into the game, the Aztecs were not exactly counting their blessings. Center Gerald Murray had reinjured his healing broken kneecap earlier in the week, leaving the Aztecs with only three players who stand 6-feet 8-inches. Without Murray, six of the 11 remaining players were freshmen.
At times, SDSU showed its inexperience. The Aztecs committed 20 turnovers while often appearing somewhat disoriented.
“We played a real sloppy game,” guard Anthony Watson said. “Our immaturity showed. We made a lot of mistakes and missed a lot of free throws.”
At the outset, it looked as if the Aztecs might miss everything when they missed their first seven field-goal attempts. They did not take the lead until 12:47 into the game on an eight-foot shot by Watson.
Seniors Steffond Johnson and Watson were SDSU’s most dominating players. Johnson, who had been slowed in practice by muscle spasms in his lower back, had a team-high 19 points. Watson had 18 points and team-highs of 7 rebounds and 7 assists.
The 6-3 Watson, a natural guard, often had to play forward because of SDSU’s lack of height. Louisiana Tech had several shots on numerous offensive possessions as it outrebounded the smaller Aztecs, 39-27.
SDSU utilized a four-guard offense for 12 minutes of the game, playing the Bulldogs even in that time. But Louisiana Tech was usually successful in forcing Johnson outside when he was SDSU’s only forward in the game. Johnson had just four rebounds in 34 minutes.
“I wasn’t able to rebound as well as I wanted to,” Johnson said. “The first thing I try to do is block out to make it possible for somebody else to get a rebound if I don’t get it. Too many times, we came down and only got one shot. I don’t know what it will take to make these guys realize we don’t have a seven-footer to get rebounds. We have to make the most of every shot.”
After leading, 37-36, at halftime, SDSU led through most of the second half. Louisiana Tech had trailed for 10 1/2 minutes before it took the lead, 70-68, with 3:53 remaining.
Dorsey tied the game, 70-70, with 2:17 remaining on a layup, but he missed the ensuing free throw. Louisiana Tech nearly couldn’t get off a shot before the 45-second clock expired on a later possession. However, when Dorsey and Robert Godbolt were tied up on the rebound of a missed Bulldog shot, Louisiana Tech retained the ball on the alternating possession rule.
Kelvin Lewis hit two free throws with 45 seconds remaining, giving the Bulldogs a 72-70 lead. Watson tied the game on a 14-footer with 24 seconds left, but the Aztecs ultimately couldn’t stop Brown when it counted.
“By the time somebody got to him, the shot was released,” Watson said. “That’s a cardinal sin in the last seconds.”