At midcourt the entire San Diego State basketball team embraced after the final buzzer. In the locker room there was a celebration not unlike what teams have after winning a national championship.
SDSU did not win a national championship Saturday night, but it did accomplish a first for the season--winning a game.
The Aztecs broke their seven-game losing streak by defeating Florida, 63-62, in the consolation game of the Rebel Roundup.
"I feel like I'm ready to go out to Las Vegas and party," said point guard Creon Dorsey, echoing the sentiments of his teammates.
"There has been a lot of pressure on everybody," guard Anthony Watson said. "I've never been through a divorce, but this must be what it feels like. This has been real hard to deal with."
The Aztecs had been dealing with their worst start in school history. But Saturday night, they decided that eight losses would have been too many.
Coach Smokey Gaines, who has been complaining about how young his team is, decided to do something about it. He started all four Aztec seniors, along with freshman center Kevin Brown, in a three-guard offense.
In the second half, SDSU never substituted. In the first half, Aztec reserves played a total of 13 minutes.
"We're tired, but we're not tired, tired," Dorsey said. "What we were tired of was seeing ourselves lose by one point."
The Aztecs had lost their first two games of the season by two points on last-second shots. In their two games before Saturday, they had lost by 17 and 20 points.
A change was in order, so Gaines started senior guard Bobby Owens instead of freshman forward Josh Lowery for the first time this season. Owens, who attended Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas, responded with 10 points and a team-high four assists.
"We felt comfortable with all of the seniors out there," Dorsey said. "When we get together, we tell each other we are seniors and shouldn't lose. We've all played a year together with each other, and that helps."
The seniors are experiencing a season quite unlike 1984-85, when the Aztecs won the Western Athletic Conference postseason tournament and advanced to the NCAA playoffs.
The Aztecs had trailed at halftime, 40-30, but made an early second-half run to tie the game at 46 with 13:29 remaining. Shortly thereafter, SDSU had opportunities to put away the game, but Watson missed three free throws and Dorsey missed the front end of a one-and-one.
Florida (4-3) eventually led with 2 1/2 minutes remaining, 62-59. However, Brown stole the ball and Watson scored at the other end to cut the deficit to 62-61 with 2:01 left.
Watson rebounded a shot by Florida's Vernon Maxwell with 1:50 remaining, and Dorsey scored on a 10-foot jumper with 1:37 left to give SDSU a 63-62 lead.
Watson scored a game-high 20 points and Dorsey added 17. John Martens had a team-high 12 rebounds, but SDSU was outrebounded for the eighth straight game, 41-34.
Dorsey twice missed the front ends of one-and-one free throws in the final 54 seconds, and Martens missed another one-and-one in that time. After Dorsey missed with six seconds remaining, Martens fouled Kenny McClary with three seconds left as Florida brought the ball up court.
"I wanted to stop him so they would get the ball out of bounds," Martens said. "I knew we only had four teams fouls, so we had some to give. We didn't want them to get a fast break."
Florida had one last shot, a 25-footer that Maxwell missed at the buzzer.
"I've seen too many shots like that beat us this year," Gaines said. "I closed my eyes when he shot. I wouldn't have been surprised if it went in. I was surprised to see us leading at the end of the game."
Aztec players had a team meeting during the day, deciding they wanted to present Gaines with a win for Christmas. Santa Claus arrived four days early here.
Aztec Notes Smokey Gaines is scheduled to have breakfast Monday with Fred Miller, SDSU's new athletic director. Miller is having individual meetings with each member of the school's athletic staff.