Gutsy performance gives SDSU statement win vs. UNLV

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Jamaal Franklin quite literally pulled himself up by his bootstraps on Saturday afternoon and led No. 22 San Diego State to their first conference win of the season, beating No. 12 UNLV.

With just over two minutes to play, Franklin went careening into a row of photographers under the basket while chasing a loose ball and was down on the floor in pain, tugging on his shoelaces to help himself up as he limped to the bench.

He returned with under a minute to play and, in a tied game, with the clock winding down, Franklin drove the right side of the lane and floated in a soft layup with 0.3 seconds to play, ultimately giving the Aztecs a 69-67 win in front of a roaring crowd of over 14,000 at Viejas Arena in San Diego.

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Franklin finished with a game-high 24 points and added 10 rebounds, helping San Diego State stave off a second-half push by the Rebels to move the Aztecs to 15-2 on the year and 1-0 in Mountain West play. It was not a pretty win for San Diego State, having turned the ball over 15 times and getting outrebounded 18-3 on the offensive glass and 41-31, overall, but it was enough to beat a rival at home, tilting the all-time series record to 17-15 in favor of SDSU.

Those above-mentioned Aztec miscues helped the Rebels to stay in the game, despite solid defense that forced 14 UNLV turnovers and kept them to just 35 percent shooting from the floor.

San Diego State junior James Rahon complemented Franklin with 22 points.

This win was a statement by Steve Fisher’s team, who narrowly escaped a loss to 0-16 Chicago State on Tuesday night. The top of the Mountain West remains strong, with preseason favorite New Mexico and UNLV making it a three-horse race.

The Aztecs are still finding ways to replace much of the athletic frontcourt they lost last season, including now-San Antonio Spur Kawhi Leonard, and gave the bulk of their minutes to their starters against UNLV, with Fisher’s first five averaging 35 minutes.

“We spent time on us,” Fisher recently told the San Diego Union-Tribune of his team’s priorities. “That’s what we’re continuing to do…I like how we’re progressing.”

Their non-conference schedule was not without tests against ranked opponents, including on the road at Baylor and Arizona, and home matchups with Creighton and California.

And it seems that’s what Fisher wants.

“Being able to maintain your commitment and intellect when things aren’t going well for you [is important],” Fisher said in that same interview. “Really good players and really good teams have the ability when they are stressed to rise above it, so we’ve tried to put them in those situations a little bit in practice.”

San Diego State goes right back at it, headed on the road to play New Mexico on Jan. 18.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_