It was pretty much an inside job.
San Diego State senior forward Billy White poured in a career-high 30 points and the Aztecs enjoyed a 39-29 rebounding edge, which fueled a 79-76 men’s basketball victory over 11th-ranked Gonzaga in front of 6,000 Tuesday at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
The loss was just Gonzaga’s fifth in 82 games at the McCarthey Athletic Center. To make matters worse, Gonzaga standout sophomore forward Elias Harris left with an injury late in the game.
“I think it’s my Achilles (tendon),” said Harris, who will have an MRI today. “I heard something pop. I couldn’t get up in the air and I couldn’t run any more.”
White scored 11 straight points in a 2-minute, 45-second span as No. 25 San Diego State (2-0) stretched its lead to 61-57. He had 18 of his 30 points in the second half, easily eclipsing his previous career best of 24 points.
“It was one of those nights that they came to me and it was like, ‘We need you tonight, we need you to score more than usual,’ ” White said. “And I took on that role. One of our best players, Malcolm Thomas, got in foul trouble, and I had to step it up a notch.”
Gonzaga’s Steven Gray stepped it up several notches. The senior guard scored 20 of his career-high 35 points in the second half, single-handedly keeping Gonzaga (2-1) within striking distance.
“Steven was superhuman,” GU coach Mark Few said.
After trailing 42-37 at half, GU jumped in front with a 7-0 run to start the second half. The Aztecs answered with a pair of 3-pointers, the latter by White, to move back on top 48-45. Gray and White continued to exchange points, but White had more help as the Aztecs took a 68-61 lead.
“We’d make run after run and they’d answer with a basket or in most cases a putback and take the wind out of our sails,” Few said. “To our guys’ credit, they’d fight back and then the same thing (would happen) again. The putback numbers were huge. They crushed us.”
Gonzaga had no answer defending White. San Diego State grabbed 18 offensive boards to create a 24-10 edge in second-chance points.
“He was absolutely phenomenal,” Aztecs coach Steve Fisher said of White. “He made some just sheer-willed, athletic plays that win for you. He’s quick and long. We could not have done it without him.”
Gray scored 14 of GU’s final 15 points, including a 4-footer that trimmed SDSU’s lead to 77-76 with 23.6 seconds left. After San Diego State’s Kawhi Leonard made two free throws, Gray lost the ball on the perimeter and his desperation save was retrieved by the Aztecs.
SDSU’s Chase Tapley missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 4.9 seconds left, but Gray was forced to fire a shot from just inside the midcourt line. His shot came up short and the Aztecs celebrated a hard-fought victory.
“They competed hard,” said Harris, who was held to five points and three rebounds before suffering his injury. “They kicked our butt, that’s how you can say it.”
Gonzaga trailed by as many as 10, but fought back within 42-37 at halftime, thanks to Demetri Goodson’s three-point play and 3-pointer in the final 97 seconds.
Leonard and White each scored 12 first-half points. They also combined for 11 rebounds, five on the offensive end. The Aztecs didn’t shoot well from the perimeter, but Leonard, White and Co., stung the Zags with 22 points in the paint.
Points didn’t come easy for the Zags. Gray had a hard-earned 15 points by intermission and Rob Sacre was effective before picking up his second foul with 7:28 left.
Gonzaga faces third-ranked Kansas State at the CBE Classic in Kansas City on Monday.