FULLERTON, Calif. (AP) With 20th-ranked Creighton and No. 25 Marquette headlining the Wooden Legacy in Southern California this week, San Diego State figured this was a good time to make a statement of its own.
Winston Shepard scored 15 points and Matt Shrigley added 12 to lead the Aztecs to a 72-52 win over the College of Charleston in Thursday's first round at Cal State Fullerton.
Xavier Thames scored 11 points for San Diego State and JJ O'Brien added 10. Shrigley scored a game-high four 3-pointers and the Aztecs shot 57.4 percent from the field.
The Aztecs (3-1) could do no wrong in the game's opening minutes, and the Cougars (2-4) had trouble doing anything right.
San Diego State scored 17 of the game's first 18 points, forcing the pace with their speed and shooting well from long range.
''I just thought that the beginning of the game is what dug us our hole,'' Charleston coach Doug Wojcik said. ''Give them credit for running it right at us. Our transition defense is not what it needed to be.''
Their 17-1 run ended with 13:22 left in the first half, when David Wishon scored Charleston's first field goal.
The Aztecs kept the pressure on and took their biggest lead of the half (29-7) on a 3-pointer by Shrigley.
''That's probably the most long and athletic team we've played all year,'' said Charleston guard Joe Chealey. ''They came out and punched us in the mouth.''
Chealey felt that way even after being reminded that the Cougars played - and lost - to defending NCAA champ Louisville earlier this season. The difference is Shepard, a guard who measures in at 6-foot-8.
''I think they're kind of similar,'' Chealey added, comparing Louisville with San Diego State. ''I think at the guard spot, Shepard, that's a little bit different. At the guard spot, they (San Diego State) are pretty long.''
Theo Johnson hit a 3-pointer from the right corner with seven minutes left, cutting the Aztecs' lead to 29-16, but that was the closest that the Cougars got and San Diego State led 37-21 at halftime.
Despite all of the attention that was being drawn by the Aztecs' offense, it was the defensive effort which got the most praise from San Diego State coach Steve Fisher.
''We've got the capabilities of having a very good defensive team,'' he said. ''I felt with the length, the athleticism and the depth, we have the ability to go to the bench and not lose a beat, and sometimes gain a step or two. And that's critical. We need to maintain that.
''We wanted to make them make hard twos. For the most part, we did that.''
The Cougars tried but couldn't consistently hit 3-pointers. They entered the game with a 34.3 success rate from behind the 3-point line this season, but shot just 12.5 percent (1 for 8) in the first half.
Charleston turned up the defensive pressure to start the second half. Anthony Stitt and Canyon Berry picked up steals on the Aztecs' first two possessions, converting each one into points.
The Cougars had a chance to creep to within nine points with just over 14 minutes to play, but Joe Chealey missed on his three-point attempt. Anthony Thomas picked up the rebound for Charleston but Chealey missed on his ensuing shot as well.
The Aztecs countered with a basket by Thames, increasing their lead to 48-34.
Charleston got back to within 12 points at 12:47 on a layup by Thomas, but the Aztecs found their second wind and pulled away with a 15-2 run and a 63-38 lead that put the game out of reach.
''Every day in practice our focus is defense,'' Shepard said. ''I would say practices are harder than the game. Most of the practices are defense. That's just a by-product of what we want to do.''
Adjehi Baru led the Cougars with eight points. Charleston shot 33.3 percent from the field on 18-of-54 shooting. One indicator that Wojcik noticed was the four points scored by Willis Hall.
''We didn't shoot,'' Wojcik said. ''When we play well, Willis Hall scores for us. When we can't score and then we can't establish Baru down low, it's puts a lot of pressure on our three guards.''