This was not your typical night with the San Diego State basketball team.
For one thing, it was Sunday. It was cold, it was wet, and it was one day later than the Aztecs usually play. And besides, when the Aztecs go into an offensive slump, as they did Sunday, the game usually ends with a thud.
Yet there they were, on the court with Colorado State, and the 3,157 in attendance were making themselves heard as the final minute arrived.
But Colorado State held off SDSU, 64-57, leaving the Aztecs with some mixed emotions.
They felt bad, of course, because they weren't able to complete a comeback. But on the other hand, it's not often that you're still in the game at the end when you go 9:57 without making a field goal, as they did in the first half, and are outscored, 18-1, during that stretch.
"The guys played extremely hard," SDSU Coach Jim Brandenburg said. "I'm very proud of that. We dug a hole for ourselves, and they're a really hard club to come back on. We did it, we got back in the game, but then they made a small run."
After shooting just 39% (nine for 23) in the first half, the Aztecs made 50% of their shots (13 for 26) in the second. But Colorado State made an even-better 77% (13 of 17) in the second half to keep the Aztecs at bay.
SDSU (13-13, 4-8) is now alone in eighth place in the Western Athletic Conference. Colorado State (19-7, 9-5) is fourth, but just one-half game out of first in the crowded WAC race.
It was a game in which SDSU had a chance until the final 30 seconds. The Aztecs trailed by eight at the half, then watched Colorado State increase that to 12, 37-25, before going on a run of their own.
SDSU scored 15 of the next 19 points--including six by Eeric White--to trim Colorado State's lead to one, 41-40. But the Rams were patient, worked the ball around and scored seven consecutive points to go ahead 48-40.
The Aztecs chipped away and, when Rodney Jones made a three-point shot with 1:09 to play, cut Colorado State's lead to five, 58-53. But that was as close as SDSU would come in the final two minutes. Colorado State's Mark Meredith, a 90% free throw shooter, made six free throws in the final 1:15, and teammate Mike Mitchell made two more to help stop SDSU.
Brandenburg said the Aztecs were aware of Meredith's high percentage from the line, but time was running out and they missed a few chances to foul Meredith's mates.
"We were down and at a point where we couldn't let very much time run off the clock," Brandenburg said. "We were trying to foul, we just weren't clunking them hard enough to get a whistle."
So it was cat-and-mouse. Two Meredith free throws increased Colorado State's lead to 60-53. Michael Hudson then missed a three-point attempt for SDSU, but Arthur Massey rebounded and laid it back in to make it 60-55.
When Colorado State's Jamie Hines missed a dunk on the Rams' next possession, the Aztecs had about 30 seconds left. But Michael Best was called for traveling with 28 seconds to play, and SDSU was forced to foul again. Jones got Meredith, and Meredith made two more free throws.
"We have a tendency to lose games in the second half," Hines said. "I don't know what it is. We knew going into the locker room that it wasn't over."
SDSU's first-half problems began right about the time Colorado State forward Andy Anderson went down with a knee injury with 13:28 left in the half. SDSU was ahead, 14-7, and the Aztecs were sharp.
Then came trouble.
During their next 13 possessions, SDSU turned the ball over five times. They missed seven shots. Their only point came on Jamison's free throw. Vern Thompson was sent into the game. Michael Best was summoned. White visited the scorer's table to check in.