San Diego State escapes with win over Fresno State

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SAN DIEGO -- San Diego State can exhale after avoiding an upset.

San Diego State defeated Fresno State 68-60 Wednesday night at Viejas Arena, but it was far from easy for the 10th-rated Aztecs.

"We're appreciative we got the victory," Aztecs coach Steve Fisher said. "We did what we had to do to win."

San Diego State won for the 14th straight time and beat a California rival for the 38th consecutive time. However, the Aztecs (15-1, 4-0 Mountain West Conference) trailed at halftime and didn't put away the Bulldogs (8-10, 1-4) until the latter stages of the contest.

"That was a good team, a scrappy team," said San Diego forward JJ O'Brien.

The Aztecs got to the free-throw line and that was what saved them. They went the final eight minutes without sinking a basket, but made up for it by going to the foul line 41 times in the game.

All 13 of the Aztecs' final points came from the line.

"We were in attack mode and we were attacking the boards," Fisher said. "But I thought we drove too fast, out of control. You have to be able to get the ball in."

Fresno State coach Rodney Terry said it was a battle of the boards. The Bulldogs edged the Aztecs 38-37 in rebounds.

"We knew a big part of their offense was going to the glass and getting some stick-backs," he said.

A key stretch came midway through the second half when San Diego State displayed the fire power -- and defense -- that fueled the team to the second-best start in school history.

The Aztecs trailed 46-44 before going on a 10-4 run over the next four minutes. The sequence featured a put-back basket by guard Winston Shepard and then a steal by O'Brien. O'Brien rifled a pass to Shepard, who was credited with a bucket on a goaltending call for a 56-48 cushion.

Numerous players called that a momentum swing which led to the victory. Even if it was a triumph that wasn't a masterpiece.

"We are going to have games that are pretty and some where we just have to get the win," said Shepard, who had 17 points and six rebounds.

San Diego State was clinging to a 62-56 edge, and it looked as if the margin would be cut to four points when Fresno State guard Marvelle Harris went up for a layup with about a minute remaining. However, the ball rolled off the rim, and Bulldogs forward Alex Davis was called for offensive interference when he tipped in the rebound.

Thames scored a game-high 28 points. The Bulldogs were paced by guard Tyler Johnson, who scored 24 points and grabbed a team-high 11 rebounds. Harris finished with 11 points, but he hit just three of 12 shots from the field.

"They are a physical team," Johnson said. "Xavier Thames is a great player and Winston Shepard is a physical kid. They brought it tonight."

Fisher was glad he had Thames along for the winning ride.

"Sometimes your worth doesn't show up in the box score but it does with Xavier," Fisher said, after Thames had his fourth 20-point game of the season.

San Diego State's shooting was off but they did take care of the ball. They committed only four turnovers, the lowest in school history.

Fresno State suffered its seventh straight loss to the Aztecs, including four in a row at Viejas Arena.

And while the Aztecs escaped, they know there's more games like this one to come.

"All the league games are going to be like this," Thames said. "Especially with us being in the top 10 in the country. Everyone is going to want to come in here and beat us."

Added O'Brien, who had seven points and eight rebounds: "Every game is going to be like this."

The Aztecs looked more rank than ranked in the first half.

They started fast with a 9-2 run and appeared poised to put away Fresno State early. But a not-so-funny thing happened on the way to the route.

Fresno State took advantage of some shoddy San Diego State shooting and when Johnson sank a jumper it capped a 23-8 Bulldogs run and was good for a 25-17 edge.

It also supplied a dose of confidence.

The Aztecs rallied, pulling to within 29-26 on a free throw and three-point play by Thames. Harris sank a 3-pointer for Fresno State in the half's closing seconds, giving the Bulldogs a 32-31 lead.

The Aztecs shot but 31 percent (10 of 32) in the opening 20 minutes, and they finished at 33.3 percent (18 of 54).

Fresno State was slightly better at 38.2 percent (21 of 55).

NOTES: Wednesday's crowd of 12,414 was the Aztecs' 31st consecutive regular-season sell out. ... San Diego State completes its two-game homestand against Nevada-Las Vegas on Saturday. ... Fresno State senior G Tyler Johnson topped 1,000 points for his career. He finished the night with 1,003. ... The Indiana Pacers' Paul George, a former Fresno State star, will be honored Saturday when the Bulldogs host New Mexico. ... Fresno State last defeated a Top 10 team on March 10, 1984, when it beat then-No. 10 UNLV.

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