SAN DIEGO — Wichita State worked and worked, doing its best to handle No. 17 San Diego State. The Aztecs made it look easy, cruising until their athletic ability broke through.
For most of the game, that made it an even fight. For about a four-minute stretch, San Diego State's quickness, strength and length dominated. That was enough for the Aztecs to stop the Shockers 83-69 on Saturday at sold-out Viejas Arena.
"We were in pretty good shape, we were playing well early in the second half," WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. "They beat us in transition. They beat us on the boards. They were quicker to the ball."
The Aztecs put all of those assets on display during the game's turning point.
The Shockers (5-2) trailed 49-47 with 14:04 to play. Two timeouts later, the Shockers trailed 67-50 with 10:40 remaining.
In WSU coach-speak, many of those plays were "atomic bombs" — the worst kind of turnover. The term is written on almost every scouting report and whiteboard. Atomic bombs mean a turnover that results in a dunk or layup against a defense scrambling to recover. WSU committed 13 turnovers, an acceptable amount. The Aztecs scored 18 points off those turnovers, which means the Shockers gave up a lot of easy baskets after giving away the ball.
"I thought we had a lot more turnovers, the way they were running," WSU senior Graham Hatch. "We have to limit those atomic bombs. Good teams make us pay for that kind of stuff."
Kawhi Leonard started the burst for the Aztecs (8-0) with a three-point play for a 52-47 lead. WSU never recovered from the next sequence.
The Aztecs stole an inbound pass by Demetric Williams. Billy White , who led all scorers with 24 points, scored on the break. Williams, dribbling against the press, lost the ball and WSU's Gabe Blair intentionally fouled White to prevent a dunk. Two free throws made it 56-47. On the possession, Malcolm Thomas scored. Pressing again, White stole a bounce pass by Toure Murry and dunked to make it 60-47 with 12:53 to play.
It's difficult to beat ranked teams. It's almost impossible when giving up what essentially goes down as a six-point possession.
A three-pointer by David Kyles briefly rallied WSU.
Leonard responded with a corner three over 7-footer Garrett Stutz for a 63-50 lead. Chase Tapley scored on a layup after a miss. White did the same thing, and the Aztecs led 67-50 when the Shockers called timeout with 10:40 to play.
WSU did regain its composure. It cut the lead to nine points with 8:15 to play. The Azetcs, however, answered by holding WSU scoreless until it built a 71-58 lead. A three by Hatch cut the lead to 75-67 with just more than two minutes remaining. After an SDSU free throw, Blair's dunk made it 76-69 with 1:48 to play. White responded with his own dunk, after beating the WSU press, for a 78-69 lead.
The Shockers didn't score again.
So the Shockers didn't fold in their first road game. A season or two ago, that would have been some consolation. This team expects more.
"Us being an experienced team, we should be more ready," Durley said. "Us being an experienced team, we don't have excuses on the road any more."
Kyles, limited by fouls, turned in another sterling scoring performance. He led the Shockers with 18 points, making 4 of 5 three-pointers. The fouls had another impact on the game — it forced Marshall to substitute less-experienced players.
"When I got those fouls, we had to bring Joe (Ragland) in, Demetric (Williams) in, and they're not used to that type of atmosphere," Kyles said. "I know it's frustrating after you make one mistake and the crowd is on you and it feels like it's going downhill."
Shooting kept the Shockers in it. They made 9 of 18 three-pointers, which wasn't enough to overcome SDSU's advantage in the lane. The Aztecs scored 15 second-chance points and outscored WSU 48-24 in the lane.
"Way too many," Durley said. "Way too many offensive rebounds, and we got beat in transition too much."
WSU took a 22-18 lead in the first half. The Aztecs quickly erased it, largely because of their dominance on the backboards.
The Shockers played good defense, then negated their effort by giving up offensive rebounds. The Aztecs took a 26-24 lead, scoring six of those eight points after offensive rebounds.
SDSU out-rebounded WSU 19-13 in the first half and scored 11 second-chance points.