It took just two nights--and really, just two dry spells Saturday night in Texas El Paso’s Special Events Center--for last week’s smiles to dissolve into this week’s frowns for San Diego State.
The Aztecs stumbled at Texas El Paso, 73-67, in a momentum-killer--and in a game they could have won--in front of a crowd of 9,195. SDSU dropped into sixth place in the Western Athletic Conference, and UTEP moved into a tie for third.
A loss at UTEP (13-5, 5-3) is nothing new--SDSU (8-10, 3-5) has never won a regular-season game in the Special Events Center in 13 tries. But add this to Thursday’s loss at New Mexico, and suddenly, victories over New Mexico and UTEP last week are neutralized and the Aztecs head home still trying to figure out their season.
“You can look at it two ways,” SDSU Coach Jim Brandenburg said. “Poor us, we didn’t get a win. Or, you can say, ‘Hey, we ended up short of our goal but we competed.’ We were right there both ballgames (Thursday at New Mexico and Saturday), and we were doing it with young players.
“We thought we had a chance to get a road breakthrough, and we didn’t get it. We have to go home, get ready for Wyoming (next Sunday) and get ourselves back into the race. We’re only as good as our next game.”
Two second-half scoring droughts were disastrous to SDSU. The first came at the beginning of the second half. Trailing by two at the half, 35-33, the Aztecs went 3:28 without scoring right after halftime. During that time, UTEP scored eight in a row to make it 42-33.
Later, after Courtie Miller hit a turnaround jumper with 8:21 left to bring SDSU to within two, 56-54, the Aztecs went 3:53 without scoring. The Miners reeled off 10 points during that span to take a 12-point lead, 66-54.
That’s 7:21 worth of zeroes and a night’s worth of tossing and turning. Add to that UTEP’s 34-28 rebounding margin, and Marlon Maxey’s 22 points and nine rebounds, and the Aztecs had trouble.
Still, SDSU pulled to within three, 70-67, when Chris McKinney swished a three-pointer with 59 seconds left. But David Van Dyke made a free throw, and the Aztecs wouldn’t score again.
“I’ll tell you what,” said UTEP Coach Don Haskins. “They’ve got a very good ballclub.”
Two starters--guard Arthur Massey and forward Courtie Miller--were sore with nagging injuries, and Vern Thompson, with the flu, played just four minutes. And, Massey, playing on a sore ankle, learned Friday of the death of his great-grandmother.
“Basically, I wasn’t into the game,” Massey said quietly. “It was something I tried not to think about during the game, but it affected me.”
He finished with 12 points--three below his average--and five assists. Brandenburg said he knew Massey’s mind was wandering at times.
“He has a very close-knit family,” Brandenburg said. “He’s a very warm, loving young man. It was bothering him.”
Brandenburg said the Aztecs’ offensive inconsistency stemmed from the fact that they weren’t moving well on offense, thus, they didn’t get many open shots. UTEP’s 1-3-1 zone also bothered SDSU. The Miners went to it from a man-to-man with about seven minutes left in the first half and then again with about six minutes left in the second.
Terrence Hamilton, a redshirt freshman who played the best game of his college career, led SDSU’s comeback, scoring 10 consecutive points near the end to bring SDSU to within six, 70-64. He led SDSU with 14 points and six rebounds--both career highs.
“I was able to get a couple of boards--they were leaving me open underneath,” he said, adding that part of that reason was because UTEP was collapsing inside on center Marty Dow. “They went up by 12; I was just trying to do my part along with everyone else.”
Ray Barefield played one of his better games of the season, finishing with 11 points and four assists. Dow was held to 10 points. McKinney, who has started all but one game this season, played just 15 minutes.
“It wasn’t so much what Chris McKinney wasn’t doing, it was what Ray Barefield was doing,” Brandenburg said.
Said McKinney: “I don’t know what his reasons were for cutting my playing time. It messed up my game completely. . . . I didn’t feel like I needed to be in the game (at the end) for as long as I sat on the bench.”
Forward Keith Balzer, who has been out much of the season with tendinitis in his right knee, once again didn’t dress for the game. SDSU Coach Jim Brandenburg hinted Wednesday night that Balzer might see some action against UTEP, but decided after Thursday morning’s shoot-around that Balzer’s knee was still too sore.