Nothing was falling early for No. 25 San Diego State against Fresno State, including a layup that Trey Pulliam whiffed on in the opening minute.
“That first layup was like, ‘Holy smokes, it’s going to be one of those nights?’ ‘’ Aztecs coach Brian Dutcher said.
Not to worry. Matt Mitchell scored 19 points and Pulliam matched his career high with 18 for San Diego State, which used a 19-0 run to take control in the first half and beat Fresno State 67-53 Thursday night for its seventh straight win.
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Jordan Schakel had 13 for the Aztecs (16-4, 10-3 Mountain West), who recovered from a ragged start and an 11-0 deficit by clamping down on defense and forcing Fresno State to go cold for eight minutes.
“I’m so glad it happened at the very start of the game," Dutcher said. "I knew we had plenty of time to make up from an early deficit. That’s basketball. It’s a game of runs. I’ve got a veteran team. They didn’t get rattled by it.”
Pulliam quickly found his game.
“Good players believe in themselves,” Dutcher said. "A coach can’t give a player confidence. A player has to have confidence in himself. And Trey has confidence in himself. And when he saw the ball go in, he got rhythm about his game and he started to take over the the game. That's what good players do.
“That's the beauty of our team," Dutcher added. "We don't need one guy to put up his numbers every night for us to win. ... We have a lot of pieces on this team. It was Trey's night tonight and I hope it is again next game. But if it's not, I know we have enough offensive pieces to make it successful.”
Said Pulliam: "“If I have an open shot, I take it. My confidence was there so I just took it. I had it going, so that’s really what it was.”
The 14-point margin was the narrowest in the win streak by SDSU. Four of the Aztecs' previous six wins had been by at least 30 points.
Orlando Robinson had 17 points and 13 rebounds and Isaiah Hill 11 points for Fresno State (9-8, 6-8).
San Diego State missed its first six shots and allowed Fresno State to take an 11-0 lead, including getting two 3-pointers from Hill and one from Robinson.
The Bulldogs then went cold for eight minutes and SDSU took off on a 19-0 run. The Aztecs took the lead for good at 13-11 on Mitchell's steal and layup 10:22 into the game. They ran the lead to 19-11 on Terrell Gomez's jumper before Fresno State finally broke its drought with a jumper by Christian Gray with 7:34 to go.
SDSU closed on a 32-9 spurt to lead 32-20 at halftime.
“They picked up the pressure and we didn’t respond on the offensive end,” said Fresno State coach Justin Hutson, a former assistant at SDSU. “When they picked up the pressure on us on the defensive end, up 11-nothing — like good teams do — we didn’t respond and play with a purpose. We didn’t cut hard, we didn’t drive hard and more importantly we didn’t make the extra pass.”
Mitchell said the Aztecs needed to “just breathe” when they were down 11. “That's all it is. They went on a run very early. Basketball is just a game of runs. When you calm down, take a second, let yourself get reacclimated to the game, to the intensity of the other team's game, how hard they were playing, allowed us to take a step back and go on a run ourselves.”
Pulliam scored 12 points in the second half, including two 3-pointers in the first few minutes.
SDSU: The Aztecs were back in The Associated Press Top 25 for the first time in two months. It took them a few minutes to look like a ranked team, and then keyed their comeback with clampdown defense.
Fresno State: The Bulldogs have lost 27 straight games to AP Top 25 teams. Its last win against a ranked team was a 58-52 defeat of Oklahoma State on Feb. 10, 2002.
The teams complete their season series Saturday afternoon.