Aztecs focus on future after loss

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The San Diego State Aztecs were upset that they got upset.

At the same time, they are already looking forward to next season.

San Diego State's lack of big men -- its tallest starter was 6-foot-7-inch senior Tim Shelton -- finally cost the Aztecs in the NCAA Tournament as they were beaten by 11th-seeded North Carolina State 79-65 on Friday in the second round of the Midwest Region.

"We're very disappointed," veteran coach Steve Fisher said. Then he added, "And I do think that the best will be yet to come."

The Aztecs will welcome back just about everybody from a 26-8 team that earned a No. 6 seed in the NCAAs and a share of the Mountain West Conference regular-season title. The most substantial losses are Shelton and substitute Garrett Green, two of their best big men. Still, they combined to average only a shade over 11 points and nine rebounds.

"We're looking forward to a comeback next year," said Jamaal Franklin, who led the Aztecs with 23 points. "Get ready."

Franklin was the Mountain West Player of the Year. He'll be back along with guards Xavier Thames, Chase Tapley and James Rahon. DeShawn Stephens, a 6-8 junior, will move into a spot in the frontcourt.

Tapley added 19 points and Rahon 11 for the Aztecs, who shot just 38 percent from the field to North Carolina State's 59 percent.

The Aztecs were fighting an uphill battle against a muscular, tall front line for the Wolfpack (23-12). Richard Howell, all 6-8 and 250 pounds of him, doubled his average with 22 points, and 6-8 CJ Leslie added 15 points.

Down by as many as nine points midway through the second half, and with Shelton on the bench with four fouls, the Aztecs didn't roll over.

They scored on five consecutive possessions to draw to 57-54. Then North Carolina State coach Mark Gottfried called a timeout.

"We've been through a lot this year," said Lorenzo Brown, who had 17 points and eight assists. "We've played a lot of great teams, like Syracuse and North Carolina and teams like that. Coming down to the end, we made big shots."

CJ Williams hit a short jumper. After a San Diego State miss, Brown made a 14-footer with a hand in his face for a 61-54 lead.

After Green dunked for the Aztecs, the Wolfpack went on a 7-2 run for a 10-point lead and they never were threatened again.

"Usually expectations are higher than they need to be," Fisher said. "Our kids are a proud group that felt they could be good. And yet we had a lot of moving parts to replace, and I thought they did an admirable job from game one to now of doing that."


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