San Diego State coach Steve Fisher does not script what he’ll say to his players in the huddle. But at the end of close games, if he senses any doubt or worry, he tells them to capture a positive thought. “Take a deep breath,” he’ll say, “and envision running off the floor with the victory.” Or, as he said earlier this month at Kansas, as an 11-point second half lead shrunk to one: “Imagine you just played the best 30 minutes of basketball of your life.” The Aztecs made four straight free throws to seal the win. They have won 108 games in a row when leading with five minutes to play.
That statistic is not readily available for other teams, but I’d bet SDSU’s streak is the longest in the country. For the sake of context, I looked at the play-by-play data for the three schools my cousins and I attended. Each team had an instance this season in which it led at the five-minute mark and lost: Michigan on Dec. 14 against Arizona; Notre Dame a week later against Ohio State; and Dayton the following day against USC. San Diego State’s last loss in such a situation came on Jan. 9, 2010, when it let an 11-point lead slip away against Wyoming.
Since the start of the 2010-11 season, SDSU is tops in the nation in games decided by six points or less or in overtime.
Team W L Pct.
San Diego State 30 8 78.9
Syracuse 29 10 74.4
Louisiana Tech 28 10 73.7
Memphis 28 10 73.7
Kansas 24 10 70.6
The Aztecs have the sixth best winning percentage overall during that span, but a 15-1 record in its last 16 overtime games further demonstrates Fisher’s late-game edge. “When you win a close game or come back from deficits, it makes you believe it will happen again,” he said earlier this month. “We believe we’re going to win those games and I think that’s a huge factor when you combine that with our talent and preparation.”
He also admitted his team’s good fortune. In a one-point win against San Diego earlier this season, USD had the final shot, a jumper that rimmed out.* Several times during the streak the opposing team has missed a buzzer-beater that would have reversed the outcome.
*The win preserved another impressive streak: 38 straight victories against schools from California. That streak is on the line tonight against San Jose State.
Then again, the Aztecs are No. 1 in the country in field goal percentage defense, so missed shots are frequent. They are particularly stingy in the paint, where they block a lot of shots without fouling. Defense is a big reason they’re 16-1 and No. 7 in the country.
The next time your favorite team blows a lead in the final five minutes—and I bet it will happen soon—keep in mind San Diego State’s amazing streak.
Related reading: Rising Star: San Diego State Forward Winston Shepard