FRESNO — For the first six minutes, Saturday night's game was reminiscent of Coach Jim Brandenburg's worst nightmare.
His San Diego State basketball team was being shut out by Northern Arizona. The Lumberjacks had scored 13 points and the Aztecs were more than disorganized. They were terrible.
They had missed 9 shots, made 6 turnovers and had Mitch McMullen, their starting center, on the bench with 2 personal fouls.
"Ever since I've been coaching, I've had this recurring nightmare," Brandenburg said. "My team is down 103-0 with three seconds on the clock, the other team has the ball, and we're trying to get it back so we don't get shut out. When it was 13-0, that was on my mind."
Brandenburg then smiled. He could afford to. His nightmare had turned into a dream come true.
The Aztecs recovered from their dismal start to defeat Northern Arizona, 78-73, in the consolation game of the Sun Met tournament before a tournament-record crowd of 10,159 at Selland Arena.
Bryan Williams, a junior point guard, converted two one-and-one opportunities in the final 18 seconds to clinch the victory.
"We know this team has heart," said Williams, who scored 15 points and had 7 assists. "Coach Brandenburg is a heck of a coach. If we do what he tells us, we're going to be all right."
It also didn't hurt to have Tony Ross on their side. Ross, a sophomore guard, led all scorers with 27 points and was named to the all-tournament team. Ross had 21 points Friday night in a first-round loss to Kansas State.
Kansas State beat Fresno State, 65-50, in the championship game.
For the Aztecs, third place was more than a consolation prize.
The victory was their first under Brandenburg and their first outside the San Diego Sports Arena since they defeated Utah in the first round of the 1986 Western Athletic Conference tournament in Laramie, Wyo. It was a streak of 15 games over three seasons without a road- or neutral-court victory.
"If this was last year, we wouldn't have won this game," said senior forward Rodney Hawkins, who had 12 points and a game-high 9 rebounds. "We would have just given up."
With McMullen in early foul trouble and freshman Neal Steinly out with the flu, Brandenburg was left with Mark Pollard, a 6-foot, 11-inch freshman, and Sam Johnson, a 6-7 forward who sat out last season after transferring from Eastern Michigan.
The Lumberjacks (0-2) wasted no time taking advantage of the mismatch as their center, Shawn Herman, scored 18 of his 23 points in the first half.
But instead of folding, the Aztecs (1-1) rallied.
The comeback began when SDSU was its lowest, trailing 13-0 after just 6:05 had been played.
Brandenburg called a timeout to settle the team down, and when the players returned to the court, Hawkins huddled them together for a team pep talk.
"I told them that we were too good a team to behind like this," Hawkins said. "If we wanted to win, we had to give it our all."
Ross started the rally with a three-point basket from the right wing with 13:35 to play in the half. It was his first of six three-point field goals, and it started the Aztecs rolling.
"When Tony hits a shot like that, it gives us all confidence," Williams said. "It makes you just want to go out there and play even harder."
The Aztecs still trailed, 28-19, with seven minutes left. But they outscored Northern Arizona, 16-6, over the next four minutes to take their first lead at 35-34. The Lumberjacks briefly regained the lead before Ross, who hit a three-point shot and made a three-point play in the SDSU run, made a three-pointer from the corner to tie the score, 40-40, at the half.
"I don't think about the (three-point) line," Ross said. "If I'm open and I think I can make, I shoot."
Ross made two more three-pointers.
Northern Arizona came back to tie the game four times. The last time was at 72-72 with 1:40 remaining on the third of three consecutive three-pointers by Mark Anderson, a reserve senior guard. Anderson led the Lumberjacks with 25 points, including 6 of 8 from three-point range.