TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) – San Diego State couldn’t shoot straight most of the night and turned ball over at the worst of times. Then, a final burst of magnificent athleticism allowed the Aztecs to survive and play again.
Billy White had 16 points and 13 rebounds, and Kawhi Leonard sealed San Diego State’s exhausting, 71-64 double-overtime victory against Temple with a steal and a slam dunk in a third-round NCAA tournament thriller on Saturday.
“We were tired but we knew that we had to win this game,” Aztecs point guard D.J. Gay said after playing all 50 minutes. “We just wanted it a little bit more. We just sucked it up.”
White sank the go-ahead jumper and Leonard made two free throws as the second-seeded Aztecs (34-2) finally put away the pesky Owls (26-7).
Ramone Moore scored 17 for No. 7 seed Temple, which was coming off a 66-64 last-second victory over Penn State in the second round. San Diego State, never an NCAA tournament winner before this season, advanced to the West regional semifinals Thursday in Anaheim, Calif., against No. 3 seed Connecticut.
Chase Tapley matched his career best with four 3-pointers — in five attempts — but it was the soaring ability of coach Steve Fisher’s team that finally made the difference.
“We’re good. We know we’re good,” Fisher said, “but you have to have a bit of good fortune. And I said to them after the game, we probably had a little bit of that tonight.”
San Diego State blocked six shots, four by Malcolm Thomas, none bigger than his rejection of Lavoy Allen’s inside attempt in the final minute with the Aztecs clinging to a 67-64 lead. For Thomas, a hometown player with San Diego’s skyline tattooed on his biceps, it was an atonement for a crucial turnover moments earlier.
“I made a lot of plays that could have cost us the game,” he said. “But you know, being an Aztec, we know we can make it up defensively, or try to make it up defensively. That was the mindset after the turnover.”
Leonard, who struggled offensively much of the game, made two free throws with 30.4 seconds to play to put San Diego State ahead
69-64, then stole the ball from Khalif Wyatt in Temple’s backcourt, racing uncontested for the slam that sent the Aztecs’ faithful into one last frenzy.
Temple had beaten Penn State on a last-second basket by Juan Fernandez on Thursday to end Owls coach Fran Dunphy’s NCAA record of 11 straight tournament losses. He came ever so close to making it two wins in a row.
“It would have been a great, great victory for us,” he said. “But we were short. We came up short. And hopefully we will learn from it.”
Allen was the team’s only senior.
“Two days ago we had guys jumping around the locker room, being excited about getting to play again,” he said. “Today, we have guys crying.”
As things grew so tense at the end, neither coach substituted.
Allen and Rahlir Jefferson each played all 50 minutes for Temple. Moore played 49.
“You just hope and trust in these guys that they’re just going to dig down deeper and however tired they are, they’re going to find some inner strength and some adrenaline they can call on,” Dunphy said.
The Aztecs, held to a season-low 18 second-half points as the patient Owls clawed back into it, had not played a double-overtime game in seven years. When they had the last shot at the end of regulation and the first overtime and failed to score, the loud throng that made the trek east on Interstate 8 could see their dream season headed toward a possible inglorious, premature conclusion.
After a brief exhibition of its fast-break prowess gave San Diego State an 11-point first-half lead, the game slowed to the methodical pace so preferred by Temple. A series of missed shots at point-blank range — by both teams — and some untimely Aztecs turnovers transformed the game into one of those NCAA wild ones.
Fernandez scored 14 for the Owls but shot just 5 of 16 — including 1 of 10 INSIDE 3-point range. Wyatt also scored 14 and Allen had 12 points and 11 rebounds.
Thomas scored 14 for the Aztecs to help Fisher advance to a regional semifinal for the fifth time. The first four were with Michigan, the last in 1994.
Fisher needed a dozen years to bring San Diego State to national prominence.
“Doing what we’ve done, it makes everybody proud, myself included,” Fisher said. “But this is a team that, they don’t care about what happened 10 days ago much less 10 years ago. They’re proud of what they’re doing and determined that they’re going to do everything that they can to stay in the hunt to continue to play. And we find ways. You know that.”
San Diego State, puzzled by the Owls’ zone, shot just 43 percent, but Temple was worse at 38 percent.
The Aztecs led from the early minutes and were up 54-49 after Leonard’s jumper in the lane with 2:11 left in regulation. But Wyatt made a 3-pointer with 1:49 to play, then after a San Diego State turnover Allen sank a 7-footer with 51 seconds left to tie it at 54.
Tapley’s baseline runner at the end of regulation was far off the mark. In the first overtime, Fernandez opened with a 3-pointer but Thomas’ three-point play with 2 minutes to play tied it at 61. Both teams had chances after that, with Thomas’ forced jumper misfiring at the buzzer to send it to the second overtime.
When it finally ended, as his teammates hugged in celebration nearby, Tapley looked to the rafters, then sank to the court.
“It was just a great game to remember for a memory,” he said. “I just sat on the floor. I was exhausted from just playing my heart out. But, hey, my team picked me up like they always do.”
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