Thomas, Leonard lead No. 6 SDSU past New Mexico
SAN DIEGO (AP)—It’s not so scary anymore when San Diego State goes to the free throw line in the final minute or so.
Kawhi Leonard had 22 points and nine rebounds, and Malcolm Thomas had 22 points and four blocked shots for the No. 6 Aztecs, who beat New Mexico 68-62 on Wednesday night to tie the school record with their 26th victory.
“It was a huge game for both teams and we played that way,” SDSU coach Steve Fisher said. “Not expertly played, but as hard-fought as any game in the country was played tonight, for both teams. We do enough to get ourselves victories.”
The Aztecs (26-1, 11-1 Mountain West) have the nation’s best record and matched the school mark set by the 2008-09 team, which went 26-10 and reached the NIT semifinals. They’ve won six straight since their only loss, at Brigham Young on Jan. 26.
SDSU took a 47-33 lead on two free throws by Leonard with 12:10 left, but had to hang on as New Mexico climbed back into the game and refused to go away.
SDSU made eight of 10 free throws in the final 34.9 seconds. On Saturday night at UNLV, the Aztecs hit nine of 10 free throws in the final 2:12 to withstand a rally and win 63-57.
“As a whole, as a team, we came down and knocked down shots at the end again when they mattered most,” D.J. Gay said. “I think we’re getting better and we’re going to continue to get better at that. It’s kind of been our Achilles’ heel. As you’ve seen in the last two games, we’ve been doing a lot better.”
Dairese Gary made two free throws with 1:20 left to bring New Mexico to 58-54. Leonard drove the baseline for a layup with 49.7 seconds left and Gary then hit a 17-foot jumper to make it 60-56. SDSU sealed it from the line, starting when Gay made one of two to make it 61-56.
Thomas then made one of two, with Leonard pulling down the rebound before being fouled. He made both free throws for a 64-56 lead.
Leonard fouled Tony Snell during a 3-point attempt and he made all three free throws to pull the Lobos within five. Thomas made two free throws before Snell answered with a 3-pointer with 8.3 seconds left to make it 66-62. Thomas finished the scoring with two free throws with 7.3 seconds left.
“We did not get into the bonus until 3 minutes were left,” New Mexico coach Steve Alford said. “They obviously did a much better job in getting to the foul line than we did. They shot 31 free throws. We shot 17.”
SDSU was 20 of 29 from the free throw line in the second half after making one of two in the first half.
“We would have liked to have made more field goals but we made just enough,” Fisher said. “Late in the game, we were at the free throw line almost every trip down. It’s hard to make a field goal if you’re shooting free throws. We had some looks. They are long; they blocked five shots and altered probably five others. So, we did just enough.”
Gay had 11 points for the Aztecs. Leonard fell one rebound shy of his 19th double-double this season.
Gary scored 18 for New Mexico (17-9, 5-6). Snell had 14 and Drew Gordon 13.
Thomas had 11 points by halftime, helping SDSU to a 31-24 lead. He came up big during a 9-1 run late in the first half when SDSU took control. With New Mexico leading 16-15, Thomas made a bank shot to give SDSU the lead. He then blocked a shot by Snell, with James Rahon coming up with the ball and dribbling his way out of trouble before passing to Gay, who fed Thomas for a layup.
Chase Tapley hit a 3-pointer for a 22-16 lead before New Mexico’s Phillip McDonald made the front end of a one-and-one. Thomas scored from inside to make it 24-17.
Leonard made a layup early in the second half, fed Thomas for a slam dunk and then made two free throws for a 39-28 lead with 16:09 left.
“We didn’t play our most intelligent basketball, but we played hard and so did they,” Gay said.