The San Diego State Aztecs secured their second consecutive regular season championship on Saturday night with a thrilling victory over the TCU Horned Frogs, along with the #1 seed in the MWC tournament. They share the conference title with pre-season favorites New Mexico.
As with many Aztec games this season, the win was hard earned and came down to the wire. SDSU blew an 18-point second half lead to trail TCU by 3 going into the final minute of play. The situation may have seemed dire, but then, haven’t we seen this before?
With :20 left in regulation, Jamaal Franklin air-balled a three, attempting to draw a foul. The shot missed so badly that it fell into the hands of fifth-year senior Tim Shelton. Shelton got the put-back, and drew a foul. Just a 63% free throw shooter, Shelton completed the three-point play a few seconds later, and the Aztecs forced overtime.
To their credit, TCU proved to be just as tough as they looked against both New Mexico and UNLV. Like their game against UNLV, they erased an 18-point deficit almost like it was nothing. TCU’s comeback was led by Hank Thorns, who put up 25 points, 5 for 10 from the three-point line. In total, TCU went 7-10 from the three-point line in the second half. They looked unbeatable at home, just as they had been all season.
Unlike their victory over UNLV though, TCU was unable to carry over their momentum into overtime against the Aztecs. With three starters fouled out, junior Deshawn Stephens stepped up for the Azetcs, scoring four points and securing five rebounds in overtime. He kept the ball out of hot-shooting TCU hands, leading the Aztecs to the victory.
As good as Stephens was in overtime, and as great of a moment Tim Shelton’s three-point play to end regulation was, this game really belonged to Jamaal Franklin. You saw flashes of brilliance late last year, and as this season has progressed, Franklin has established himself as an elite player at the collegiate level. Does he occasionally display poor judgement and make mistakes? Sure. But no other Aztec has the ability to take over a game like he does.
Franklin scored a career high 35 points, secured 13 rebounds, and led the team with 5 assists. It was the best game of his career, and just when SDSU absolutely needed it. If he wasn’t already a contender, Franklin’s play last night inserted himself into the MWC Player of the Year conversation.
He would get my vote. Next up for SDSU: Boise State at the Mountain West Conference tournament in Las Vegas.