College Basketball Nation: Rahlir Jefferson
March, 19, 2011
By Ted Miller | ESPN.com
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Double-overtime isn't always about great basketball. Winning isn't always pretty. In terms of basketball that often made you want to scratch your eyes out, San Diego State and Temple put on quite a show.
But a "W" is the ultimate measure every time, even more so when not getting it means the season is over. The greatest season in the history of San Diego State basketball is not over after a 71-64 victory that required two extra frames to decide. And Temple's season is. Neither obsessed about aesthetics afterward.
Aztecs coach Steve Fisher began his post-game chat with reporters with a sympathetic message to Temple and its coach -- and his good buddy -- Fran Dunphy: "When you play a game like this and lose, it's so disastrous for awhile mentally that you can't comprehend it unless you are there."
And then he admitted it wasn't "perfect basketball," seeing the teams combine for 41 points in the second half, with both teams shooting under 35 percent from the field. Then he cut to the chase.
"We've got a good team. We find different ways to win," he said. "We did that again tonight. And collectively we've won 34 games. So we feel we belong."
Jennifer Stewart/US PresswireBilly White stepped up for the Aztecs by notching 16 points and 13 rebounds in SDSU's win over Temple.
San Diego State had the final shot in regulation and in the first overtime, but couldn't convert on neither. Free throw shooting and defense made the difference the the second OT. Kawhi Leonard, who struggled offensively much of the game, made four free throws, grabbed a steal and made the ensuing dunk that sealed the deal. Malcolm Thomas and Billy White both blocked Temple shots in the final minute, with Thomas' block of Lavoy Allen perhaps being the play of the game.
When the final buzzer sounded, sheer exhaustion muted the Aztecs celebration. Chase Tapley, one of four Aztecs who scored in double figures, collapsed to the floor.
"It was just a great game to remember for a memory," Tapley said. "I just had to sit on the floor. I was exhausted. Just playing my heart out."
That goes for both teams.
San Diego State took an 11-point lead in the first half and looked to be establishing the fast pace it wanted. At halftime, when it led 36-31, the Aztecs had a 12-0 advantage in fastbreak points.
But Temple adjusted during halftime, and it controlled the tempo thereafter. San Diego State scored just 18 points after the break, frustrated as Temple mixed in some zone defenses.
"I thought they were a little comfortable in running their man offense," Dunphy said. "They were doing a good job on their high ball screens and we let [point guard D.J.] Gay get into the gaps a little too easy a couple times. So we said let's throw some zone at them and see how they react."
Said Fisher: "Temple did a good job of controlling tempo. That's what they've done all season. They made us guard. They made us guard for long stretches."
Still, the Aztecs looked to be in good shape when they took a seven-point lead at 52-45 with 7:18 left. They scored just one more bucket the rest of the way, though, as the Owls forced the first OT.
In the first overtime, Temple, with a 59-57 lead, watched as Leonard missed the second of two free throws. But Rahlir Jefferson was called for a lane violation. Suffice it to say, Temple fans will be talking about that call.
"I don't really know what I could say," Dunphy said. "Could they have let it go? Yeah. But that's the way it worked. We had to live with it."
Gay admitted that the Aztecs were "out of whack" at times during the game. But he noted, they are advancing to the Sweet 16 and "at the end of the day we came out with the win."
However, when a reporter tried to see poetry in the way San Diego State won -- calling it a team of destiny -- Gay balked.
"I don't think I'm throwing around 'destiny' just yet," he said. "It's kind of like, you know, hard work is paying off. You know, a team -- fruit of its labor."
It was laborious, yes, but it was a win. That is the only reward that matters in the NCAA tournament.