SAN DIEGO (AP) — When Mike Caffey hit a 3-pointer to give Long Beach State an eight-point lead with 8 1/2 minutes left, his teammates leaped off the bench in joy and normally raucous Viejas Arena fell quiet.
The momentum changed just like that, though, as the 49ers got a dose of what San Diego State coach Steve Fisher called “controlled desperation.”
Dwayne Polee II hit a tying 3-pointer and JJ O’Brien made a go-ahead putback as the No. 18 Aztecs rallied with a 19-10 closing run to beat the inspired 49ers 60-59 Wednesday night.
“Maybe a little controlled desperation is what we saw,” Fisher said. “But I saw them play with energy and play with toughness, to say ‘We’re going to find a way to win.’ And some way, somehow, we did. I think our kids are to be applauded.”
Polee scored 16 points for SDSU (7-2), which trailed 49-41 with 8 1/2 minutes left following the second of two straight 3-pointers by Caffey.
That’s when the Aztecs started their closing run, which included two baskets by Winston Shepard that pulled the Aztecs back into it.
Polee made a 3-pointer with 3:15 left to tie it at 54. Shepard had a steal and Angelo Chol missed from in close, but O’Brien scooped up the ball and put it back to give SDSU the lead for good, 56-54.
“It was a great feeling, tying the game up, and we went on a great run,” Polee said. “I just felt like it was time to close the game after that 3 and just keep riding the momentum all the way to the finish line.”
Polee banked in a floater for a four-point lead. Caffey had a jumper, Polee made two free throws and then Caffey hit a long 3 with 3.5 seconds left to pull the 49ers to 60-59.
O’Brien missed two free throws with 2.2 seconds left. Long Beach State’s Travis Hammonds rebounded, but his desperation shot from midcourt bounced off the front of the rim.
“I thought we played well enough in stretches but not well enough down the stretch,” 49ers coach Dan Monson said. “We fell in love with the offensive end and this is a game you have to win with your defense. They got too many offensive rebounds and too many good looks in the last five to six minutes.”
Shepard scored 10 for the Aztecs, who were coming off a 49-36 loss at Washington in which they shot only 20.4 percent.
Caffey made four of Long Beach State’s 11 3-pointers and scored 20 points for the 49ers (5-6), who played the first of four ranked opponents in a span of five games.
“We didn’t do the little things,” Caffey said. “We didn’t box out on rebounds and we didn’t defend off the ball.”
He thought the Aztecs would come back.
“Definitely, because that’s a Top 20 team. We knew they were coming back. But we’ve got to finish the game out.”
San Diego State led 33-27 less than four minutes into the second half before Long Beach State went on a 14-2 run starting with consecutive 3-pointers by McKay LaSalle and Tyler Lamb. San Diego State’s Skylar Spencer missed a two-handed slam dunk attempt.
Long Beach twice led by eight, both times after 3-pointers by Caffey, sandwiched around a 3-pointer by SDSU freshman Kevin Zabo.
The Aztecs dominated much of the first half, taking a 23-11 lead with 4:51 to go after a tip-in by Spencer.
But Long Beach State got consecutive 3-pointers from Hammonds and Caffey to start a 10-2 run that pulled the 49ers to 25-21 at halftime.
Long Beach State: The 49ers played the second of six straight road games. They also visit Texas, St. John’s, Syracuse and Louisville this month. Their next home game is Jan. 3 against Fresno Pacific.
San Diego State: The Aztecs have won 45 straight games against teams from California.
“I think we can beat them on a neutral court,” Caffey said about the Aztecs.
“I appreciate them playing us,” Monson said. “We’ve got a lot more to gain than they do.”
Said Fisher: “Our kids were as excited as they’ve been in a while coming into the locker room. There was genuine enthusiasm and energy and excitement because we won that game.”
The Aztecs like to make more free throws than their opponents take. They made 15 of 25 while Long Beach took only two free throws, making both.
Long Beach State: The 49ers are at Texas on Saturday night.
San Diego State: The Aztecs visit Cincinnati next Wednesday night.