Winston Shepard scores 14 in last 7 minutes, leads No. 5 SDSU

SAN DIEGO -- San Diego State coach Steve Fisher thought about giving Winston Shepard a breather just past the midway mark of the second half in a close game against Air Force.

It turns out the last thing the sophomore forward needed was a spot on the bench.

Shepard scored 14 of his 16 points in the final 7 minutes, 14 seconds and the No. 5 Aztecs bounced back from their first loss since mid-November to beat Air Force 64-56 on Saturday night.

Shepard started his hot streak by keying a 9-0 run with a 3-pointer, a slam dunk following a steal by Xavier Thames and two free throws.

After the Falcons closed to 54-50 with 2:28 to go, Shepard converted a three-point play and hit two more free throws to give SDSU some breathing room.

"I was having a tough night up to that point," Shepard said. "Honestly, I have to thank my teammates, X Thames, coach Fish; they stuck with me and had encouraging words for me. I just wanted to go out there and continue to help my team."

Shepard made seven of nine free throws.

"With the style of basketball I play, being able to handle the ball, I find myself in the paint a lot," he said. "I was taught a rule when I was young, when you get to the paint, at worst, you have to get to the free throw line. Not only that, a lot of the time tonight I wasn't handling the ball. My teammates were finding me under the basket. I have to credit my teammates with that and once again I'd like to thank them for sticking with me and finding me in spots."

Said Fisher: "I thought it was time for him to get a break and he made a 3 and then made a rebound or steal and we rode with him for a while and he performed. He did a nice job.

"Winston is a very, very smart basketball player," Fisher added, noting that he's getting better at passing and shooting free throws. "He knows how to and has the ability to get to the rim. He's a good player. He's a hard guard. He played the next play. Sometimes all of us, Winston in particular, if you're not careful you worry about what just happened and all of sudden something negative happens on the next trip. He's much, much better on that front, and that's allowed him to grow."

Thames and Dwayne Polee II each scored 13 points for SDSU (22-2, 11-1 Mountain West), which had its 20-game winning streak snapped Tuesday night at Wyoming. It was SDSU's first loss since a 69-60 home defeat to Arizona on Nov. 14. Josh Davis had 10 rebounds.

Max Yon scored 20 and Kamryn Williams 12 for Air Force (10-14, 4-9). The Falcons' leading scorer, Tre' Coggins, was held to nine points, nearly seven below his average.

"They were really on him," coach Dave Pilipovich said of the Aztecs' play on Coggins. "They were there on the catch and they are so long with their extra length and size that he couldn't create a little space to create an advantage there."

Coggins had 29 points in a 79-72 home loss to the Aztecs on Jan. 13.

"Trey had an off night, so somebody had to step up," Yon said. "So Kam Williams and I took over the scoring a little bit, but it just wasn't our night.

"I think we handled their pressure better this time around, but they are long. We did a good job rebounding. But being in this environment, with them at home, is an advantage for them. But we are right there and can play with anybody with the way we battled."

With the game tied at 28 four minutes into the second half, Thames made consecutive 3-pointers and Polee had a tip-in and then a slam dunk on an alley-oop pass from Shepard to give the Aztecs a 38-28 lead.

Air Force closed to 44-40 on Yon's three-point play and a reverse layup by DeLovell Earls sandwiched around a 3-pointer by SDSU's Aqeel Quinn.

Shepard then came on strong for SDSU during a 9-0 run that gave the Aztecs a 53-40 lead with 5:20 left. Shepard had a 3-pointer, a slam dunk after a steal and pass by Thames and two free throws. JJ O'Brien had a bank shot.

San Diego State led 24-23 at halftime after scoring 12 of the final 18 points.