Kell hits big 3s to help SDSU beat Air Force 70-61

Feb 13, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego State Aztecs forward Winston Shepard (13) is defended by Air Force Falcons center Frank Toohey (33) during the second half at Viejas Arena at Aztec Bowl.

SAN DIEGO (AP) — After failing to score a point in his first six games back from reconstructive knee surgery, San Diego State’s Matt Shrigley finally made one of his trademark 3-point shots.

He didn’t stop there, adding three more shots from behind the arc in a matter of minutes in the first half against Air Force.

That burst helped SDSU beat Air Force 70-61 on Saturday night, although the first-place Aztecs had to work for this one as they rebounded from their first Mountain West Conference loss.

"I didn’t think I’d have this weight on my shoulders when I first came back, but it’s definitely nice to knock a few down," Shrigley said.

Trey Kell, meanwhile, struggled early from behind the 3-point line but hit two big shots from behind the arc in the final 3:20 and finished with 16 points for the first-place Aztecs (19-7, 12-1). Winston Shepard and Malik Pope each scored 13 and Shrigley had 12.

SDSU was coming off a 58-57 loss at Fresno State that snapped their 11-game winning streak to open conference play.

Playing against Air Force’s tight zone defense, the Aztecs made 12 of 39 3-pointers.

SDSU will face more teams that play zone, but probably not as tight as Air Force’s.

"I hope we don’t shoot 39 3s, but we’re going to make some 3s," coach Steve Fisher said.

"I don’t think the zones we’ll see from here on out will be that constricted and say, `You will not shoot anything other than a 3. We’ve got five people surrounding the rim.’ That’s what they did to us tonight. We found our way to make enough. Shot a lot," Fisher said.

SDSU missed its first six 3-point attempts before Pope finally made one.

Kell missed his first five 3-point attempts before sinking one.

Kell’s biggest shots came late in the game.

Air Force (12-14, 3-10) pulled to 54-52 on Jacob Van’s jumper with 5:18 left before Pope scored on a tip-in. Kell hit two 3-points to help stretch the lead to 62-52 with 1:46 left.

Shrigley’s big shots came earlier.

With the game tied at 7, Shrigley made three straight 3-pointers to give the Aztecs a 16-10 lead. Malik Pope hit a 3-pointer and Shrigley then made his fourth straight shot from behind the arc to make it 22-14.

"They dared us and double-dared us to shoot the ball from the perimeter," Fisher said. "And it was a workable strategy until we went to the bench and then the sun came out and we had some good things happen and it was led by Matt Shrigley. I was so happy for him when he made his first 3, and our fans did a wonderful job of expressing their appreciation for what he did."

Van and Graham each scored 17 for Air Force, which lost its second straight and 10th in 12 games. The Falcons have lost six straight to SDSU.

"We had opportunities," Air Force coach Dave Pilipovich said. "We wanted to stay in the zone and make them shoot 3s. They came out and made some 3s but we didn’t panic. The numbers came down to what we thought they’d be and our kids played their rear ends off. We wanted to make them shoot the ball to beat us. They’re just so much bigger than us. Shepard’s a guard for them and he’d be our post player."

The Aztecs had to work for the victory after taking a 50-39 lead on Dakarai Allen’s 3-pointer with 13:16 to go. The teams went scoreless for almost three minutes, and then Van, Graham and Dezmond James each made a shot to pull Air Force to 50-45 and force SDSU to call a timeout.

SDSU missed four straight free throws at one point in the final minutes before putting it away with four free throws by Shepard and two by Kell in the final 20 seconds.

"Our kids played so hard and gave us an opportunity to win the game at the end," Pilpovich said. "I couldn’t be more proud of them."

——

TIP-INS

Air Force: Each Air Force starter, after he was announced before the game, ran over and shook hands with Fisher.

San Diego State: Freshman point guard Jeremy Hemsley didn’t start due to a bone bruise in his right foot suffered in the loss at Fresno State.

UP NEXT

Air Force hosts UNLV on Tuesday.

San Diego State is at San Jose State on Feb. 21.