San Diego State opens conference play with win at Colorado State
FORT COLLINS, Colo. (AP)
J.J. Avila was not 100 percent.
A sprained lower back from earlier in the week left Colorado State's leading scorer grimacing during the pregame warmups and having to stand during timeouts to relieve the pain.
Yet the Rams were able to get 35 minutes out of the junior forward Wednesday night in a 71-61 loss to No. 21 San Diego State.
''He's in bad shape. Really bad shape and his back is really hurting him,'' Colorado State coach Larry Eustachy said about Avila. ''What's too bad is that he put out such a gallant effort and we came up a little short in winning the game.''
Avila scored 15 points, just under his scoring average, and grabbed six rebounds before fouling out with 3:53 left
It wasn't enough.
Xavier Thames hit four perimeter shots, including two from 3-point range in a 3-minute stretch, and finished with 23 points as San Diego State won its 10th straight.
Avila remained in the training room and was unable to comment after the game.
Bejarano led Colorado State with 22 points while Jon Octeus added 10.
The Rams did break San Diego State's string of holding its previous three opponents under 40 points, the first Division I team to do that since Oregon State in 2000.
Colorado State had pulled within 52-46 midway through the second half before Thames cut off the Rams' rally with his 10-point flurry.
''When they made their run, we found a way to right the ship and make a couple of plays to never let them get within two or three,'' San Diego State coach Steve Fisher said. ''And it's hard when you're always fighting from behind and look up and even when you're making plays to cut it to six, the next thing you know it's back up to nine.
"So, yeah, we made plays at crucial moments, when flow, momentum and everything else was going the other way. And that's what you have to do to win.''
Winston Shepard scored 17 points and Josh Davis had seven points and 15 rebounds for the Aztecs (11-1, 1-0 Mountain West), who won their seventh straight conference opener in tying the second-best 12-game start in school history.
San Diego State hasn't lost since Nov. 14, when it had a 69-60 setback to Arizona, now the No. 1 team in the country.
''I think we can be pretty good,'' Thames said. ''I think we can win the league, as long as we do the little things, stay focused and cut down on our turnovers. We've got a really good team.''
The Aztecs dominated Colorado State (9-5, 0-1) in the paint, outscoring the Rams 40-16 from up close and out-shooting them from the field 48.2 percent to 38.5.
''This wasn't lack of effort. It's from lack of experience,'' Eustachy said. ''We didn't carry the game plan into the league. We knew they rebounded well off missed turnovers. They miss a lot of them and practice running down rebounds. They had six of their offensive rebounds on missed free throws.''
Trailing by nine points at halftime, the Rams narrowed the deficit to four on a jumper by Joe De Ciman in the opening minutes of the second half. The Aztecs responded with a 10-3 run that included a three-point play by Shepard and a 3-pointer by Aqeel Quinn to rebuild their lead to 50-39.
After Colorado State pulled made another push to get within six, Thames went on his run and the Aztecs led 62-52 with 6:23 remaining.
Colorado State got no closer than seven points the rest of the way with San Diego State maintaining the lead by making just enough free throws down the stretch.
San Diego State improved to 5-0 away from home this season in winning for the first time in its past three trips to Colorado State.
''We didn't show enough toughness,'' Bejarano said. ''They got the best of us''