SAN DIEGO — It’s a winning run of one, a far cry from San Diego State’s 20-game stretch of consecutive victories at the beginning of the week.
But the Aztecs collected a rebound against Air Force on Saturday night and this one did not come off a wayward shot.
No. 5 San Diego State beat Air Force 64-56 in a Mountain West Conference game. The victory came in the wake of having a school-record tying 20-game winning streak snapped on Tuesday at Wyoming.
The Aztecs (22-2, 11-1), who won their 11th straight home game, were led by forward Winston Shepard’s 16 points, with 14 coming in the second half.
San Diego State forward Dwayne Polee II came off the bench to add 13 points, scoring in double figures for the second straight game. Guard Xavier Thames also had 13.
“That is a heck of a good team,” Air Force coach Dave Pilipovich said. “There’s a reason why they are ranked fifth in the country.”
The Falcons (10-14, 5-6) lost for the seventh time in their last eight games despite guard Max Yon’s 20 points. Forward Kamryn Williams contributed 12.
The score was tied at 28 about three minutes into the second half. Then the Aztecs went on a 10-0 blitz with two 3-pointers by Thames, a tip-in by Polee and a thunderous Polee dunk off a lob pass from Shepard.
“I was having a tough night up to that point,” said Shepard, who sank seven of nine free throws. “Honestly, I have to thank my teammates, X Thames, coach (Steve) Fisher, they stuck with me and had encouraging words for me. I just wanted to go out there and continue to help my team.”
But the Falcons closed to within 41-38 on a layup and free throw by Yon.
Then not more than two minutes later, the Aztecs seized a 11-point advantage. After Air Force forward DeLovell Earls’ layup, Shepard hit a 3-pointer, JJ O’Brien added a short basket and Thames swiped the ball and fed Shepard for a dunk, giving the Aztecs their biggest cushion.
Air Force did not fold. The Falcons trailed by five with 3:13 to go after a 3-pointer by Yon and two free throws by guard Tre’ Coggins. When Yon converted a layup after a Thames free throw, Air Force was down 54-50 with just over two minutes remaining.
The Aztecs responded by sinking 7 of 10 free throws in the last two minutes to go to 11-1 for the first time in Mountain West play.
Shepard again showed growth.
“Winston is a very, very smart basketball player,” Fisher said. “When he continues to get engaged in just making easy plays, he adds so many positives to what we do. He’s a very good passer, he’s becoming a much more reliable free-throw shooter. He knows how to, and has the ability, to get to the rim.”
Coggins, the Falcons’ leading scorer, was held to nine points, hitting just 2 of 14 shots from the field. Coggins, averaging 16.9 points, had 29 earlier this season in a loss to the Aztecs.
“Trey had an off night so somebody had to step up,” Yon said. “So Kam Williams and I took over the scoring a little bit, but it just wasn’t our night.”
Pilipovich said give the Aztecs credit for slowing Coggins.
“They were really on him,” Pilipovich said. “They were there on the catch and they are so long with their extra length and size that he couldn’t create a little space to create an advantage there.”
San Diego State was fortunate to be ahead 24-23 at halftime as it shot just 34 percent from the field (8 of 23) and committed four turnovers.
The Aztecs had a chance to pull ahead early when Air Force went nearly five minutes without a field goal. But San Diego State built a 10-8 advantage between the Falcons’ buckets, which would lead to an Air Force run.
The Falcons went from trailing by two to holding a 17-12 advantage with just under seven minutes remaining in the half. But the Aztecs played their best ball during a four-minute stretch, led by six points by Polee II. San Diego State forged ahead 22-17 for their biggest lead
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