J.J. O'Brien surely knew the irony of his words.
The San Diego State Aztecs lost a heartbreaking 66-60 thriller at No. 24 Colorado State on Wednesday night, a game that featured 15 lead changes and 11 ties.
"We can take that we battled. We can take that we played all the way through," O'Brien said. "It's just at the end we've got to make plays, get a rebound, take a charge, get a bucket, do something."
Take a charge.
That's exactly what both coaches and all of San Diego State's players felt star Jamaal Franklin had done with 18 seconds left when Dorian Green plowed him over on his way to the basket.
Instead, the whistle was on Franklin, the bucket counted and Green's bonus made it 64-60.
The Rams added a dunk off a steal to cap their 27th straight win at ear-piercing Moby Arena, where a sellout crowd celebrated Colorado State's first game as a ranked team since 1954.
"I told them, 'Leave your anger in the locker room. Keep your disappointment until we get home. Take that effort and fight and togetherness to Vegas and we'll have a chance" against UNLV this weekend," said Aztecs coach Steve Fisher.
Green missed a jumper with 1:11 left that would have erased the Aztecs' 60-58 lead, but teammate Pierce Hornung got the board and fed Green for the go-ahead 3-pointer.
After an uncharacteristic air ball on a 3-pointer by Xavier Thames at the other end, Green found himself with the basketball in his hands again and Franklin standing between him at the basket. Up he went and down went Franklin as the ball went through the hoop.
"I was just waiting for that ref to call a charge and call it off," Rams coach Larry Eustachy admitted. "It wasn't to be."
The Aztecs argued Franklin was well outside the no-charge zone and should have gotten the call.
"But officiating is part of what we do," Fisher said. "We had chances."
After Green's bonus gave the Rams a 64-60 lead, Greg Smith stole the ball from Franklin and fed Jon Octeus for an exclamation dunk that gave Colorado State its biggest lead of the night.
"We made enough plays at the end of the game to pull this one off," said Green, whose 16 points led the Rams (20-4), who are 7-2 Mountain West, their best start in conference play since 1996-97 when they were in the Western Athletic Conference.
The Rams matched their win total from last year and extended their home-court winning streak to 27 games, third-longest in the nation.
"We wanted to show people that we deserved it, that we could keep it going," Smith said. "We felt we should have (been ranked) weeks ago."
The Aztecs (18-6, 6-4), who beat Colorado State 79-72 in overtime last month, had just three turnovers through the first 33 minutes before turning the ball over five times down the stretch.
"That doesn't help either," Fisher said. "You've got to be able to get a shot to have a chance to score. But this was a tough, hard-fought game just like we thought it would be. We were in a position to win, we didn't quite get it done and that's what makes it hurt all the more."
Chase Tapley led San Diego State with 16 points and Franklin and O'Brien each had 12. The Aztecs did a great job of defending Colton Iverson in the post, holding him to 7 points, half his average, but Iverson was still able to made big contributions by grabbing 11 boards.
Franklin, the only player in the nation who leads his team in scoring, rebounds, assists and steals, missed 9 of his 13 shots and the Rams held the rest of his considerable game in check, too.
"We made it a point to prevent what he does," Hornung said. "We did. He is a heck of a player."
The Aztecs don't usually lose close games like this.
Over the last three seasons, they own the highest winning percentage in the country (.806) in games decided by six points or fewer or in overtime (25-6), and they came into the game having won 14 of 17 under Fisher when tied at halftime. This one was tied at 35 at the break.
They've also won 87 straight games when leading with 5 minutes left, and this one was tied at 54 at the 5-minute mark.
Moby Arena has become an opponents' nightmare and the crowd might well have influenced the call on Franklin in the waning seconds.
"I've played in places that were just as loud but yeah, it doesn't get any louder than that," O'Brien said.
"Shout-out to their fans, they were loud all game," Thames agreed. "It was a great atmosphere."
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