SAN DIEGO (AP) — San Diego State coach Steve Fisher chose to accent the positives for his Aztecs on Wednesday night.
There weren’t many, other than the Aztecs beating Air Force 51-38 on Senior Night in a matchup of horrible-shooting teams.
That means the Aztecs are on track to earn the No. 5 seed for the Mountain West Conference tournament and avoid a play-in game on Wednesday if they can beat New Mexico on the road on Saturday night.
“We found a way to get ourselves a much-needed win,” Fisher said. “We’re in that locker room with smiles on our faces and that’s the way we wanted it to be. I’m proud of our team. We’re determined to go to Albuquerque on Saturday and fight like crazy. That’s the next step. But this was a good win for us.”
Air Force coach Dave Pilipovich was a bit more frank.
“It was an ugly game,” he said.
There wasn’t a double-digit scorer until Air Force’s Frank Toohey made two free throws with 2:56 left. He finished with 12 points.
Malik Pope scored on SDSUs next possession to give him 11 points.
Senior Matt Shrigley made two clutch 3-pointers in the final eight minutes and junior guard Trey Kell had a career-high 12 rebounds, all defensive, for the Aztecs (17-12, 9-8 MWC).
SDSU shot only 28.8 percent (17 of 59) and Air Force 25 percent (11 of 44).
Air Force (11-19, 4-13) went 12 minutes without scoring, spanning the last 10 minutes of the first half and the first 2 of the second.
Still, the Falcons were able to tie it at 27 on a reverse layup by Lavelle Scottie with 12:27 to go.
SDSU regained the lead and pushed it to double digits with Shrigley’s two 3-pointers and two clutch shots by another senior, D’Erryl Williams, who had a jumper in the key and a basket off the rebound of Kell’s missed 3-pointer.
“Their length, their athleticism, really bothered us,” Pilipovich said.
Since it was Senior Night, Williams made his first career start.
The Aztecs led 22-13 at halftime after missing their first 10 shots, including six from 3-point range, before Kell finally hit a 3-pointer more than six minutes into the game.
The Falcons failed to score in their final 16 possessions of the half.
Fisher was impressed with Kell’s rebounding.
“He’s got a feel for how to play,” the coach said. “Trey got a lot of balls it looked like they might get, but he came swooping in. At least half of them didn’t come straight to him. He went and got them. Twelve from a guard is a pretty good night’s work. And he probably could have had 12 assists if we had made more of those baskets he set up for us.”
Kell had four assists.
Air Force: The Falcons have lost eight of nine since beating San Diego State 60-57 in Colorado Springs.
San Diego State needs to win at New Mexico on Saturday night to avoid a conference tournament play-in game. The Aztecs lost to the Lobos 68-62 in San Diego on Jan. 1.
Air Force finishes the regular season at home against Boise State on Saturday.
San Diego State is at New Mexico on Saturday night.