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Colleges : Aztecs Take Low-Key Road, but Get by Vermont

Vermont certainly is not North Carolina. The first clue came midway through the first half of Saturday’s Vermont-San Diego State basketball game, when a Catamount pass on a fast-break attempt catapulted out of bounds off a Catamount head.

The second clue came early in the second half. SDSU was leading by five with 17:47 left when Aztec Coach Jim Brandenburg called a timeout. Shawn Bell--in the midst of his best game at San Diego State--walked to the bench and looked at the scoreboard. Then he yawned.

The Aztecs won, 83-76, but the atmosphere in the San Diego Sports Arena wasn’t exactly as festive as Thursday’s 103-92 loss to North Carolina.

“I would have rather been in a dental chair with no novocaine than endure that for 40 minutes,” was the way Brandenburg explained it.

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A total of 1,529, the fewest to attend an Aztec home game since 836 watched SDSU play Hawaii in the final game of the 1986-1987 season, watched SDSU improve to 6-4. Against North Carolina, the Aztecs had set a home attendance record of 13,106.

The fallout from the empty arena reached the court, where it was so quiet you could hear the ball drop. SDSU had 21 turnovers and Vermont 18. Both teams shot 48% from the field.

“And my New Year’s resolution was to not take another drink all year long,” Brandenburg said. “But I think (the letdown) was very evident--and predictable. We were tremendously emotionally high Thursday, and when you get that high, you valley out. We valleyed out really bad.”

One of the spectators at the North Carolina game was on the Vermont bench Saturday, and Tom Brennan, the Catamount coach, got exactly what he had hoped for.

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“We caught them at the right time,” said Brennan, whose team is 1-5 and has lost 10 consecutive road games. “After playing in front of 13,000 rockin’ and rollin’ fans Thursday, and then to play in front of (something like) 13 . . . I kept saying ‘stay ahead, stay ahead’ (to the Aztecs) Thursday because I knew there had to be an emotional letdown.”

Bell, a transfer from Chicago State, finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds--both personal bests at SDSU. Guard Tony Ross had a season-high 23 points, and his four second-half 3-pointers (he had five total) sparked the listless Aztecs enough to stop a handful of Vermont comebacks.

The Aztecs built a 12-point halftime lead, 38-26, as Bell surpassed his 9.8-point scoring average with 15. Vermont whittled it down to five, 40-35, just 2 minutes into the second half and eventually cut it to three, 52-49, with 12:09 remaining.

It was 55-51 with 10:38 left, but Ross made three 3-pointers in the next 3:24 to give SDSU some room to breathe.

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“Shawn and Tony came through for us when everyone else was really struggling,” Brandenburg said.

Said Brennan: “Ross and Bell were great tonight.”

SDSU guard Bryan Williams wasn’t bad, either. He had 9 assists, giving him 19 for the last two games.

“We tried to get up for this game, but a lot of people were tired,” Williams said.

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Said Aztec center Mitch McMullen: “It was a win. You’ve got to take every one you can get.”

McMullen, who had career highs of 29 points and 12 rebounds against North Carolina, managed just 10 points and 5 rebounds before fouling out with 2:41 to play. Joe Calavita led Vermont with 20 points.


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