It's never easy with the San Diego State Aztecs. Despite building perhaps the best college basketball program in the west (sorry PAC-12 believers), wins don't seem to fall into their laps. But they do win. And win. And win. They did so again on Thursday against a hungry Boise State Broncos team in the first round of the Mountain West Conference Championship Tournament, winning 65-62 in a thriller.
The Aztecs looked lethargic and the Broncos looked in charge in the first half, led by the spectacular Anthony Drmic. The Aztecs shot 44% in the half, compared to 53% by the Broncos. The Aztecs trailed by as many as 9, but cut the lead down to 2 going into halftime 32-30.
The second half was a completely different story. Led by Jamaal Franklin (10 of his 19 points) and Chase Tapley, the only returning starter from last year's Sweet Sixteen team, with 13 points. Tapley, and the team as a whole, looked far more selective in the shots taken. The went 4-5 from the three point line, and were 14-24 in FG.
The Broncos, conversely, went cold. In the second half, Boise State dropped their shot percentage to just 34.2%. Yet they continued to dominate the boards, which prevented the Aztecs from running away with the game.
That's really an important story to follow for not only the rest of the MWC tournament, but the NCAA Tournament as well. Despite the success that the Aztecs have had this year, they're constantly struggling to get second-chance shots. In the first half against Boise State, the Aztecs didn't have a single offensive rebound. Something to look out for in the future.
With just about 6:40 left in regulation, the Aztecs took their biggest lead of the night off of a Chase Tapley three, going up by eleven. In the following six minutes, the Aztecs would squander that lead, setting up the most thrilling moment of the Aztecs' 2011-2012 season.
In a combination of bad shots and poor decisions, the Aztecs allowed Boise State back into the game. After two made free throws by Anthony Drmic decreased the lead to just two points, with :37 left, Chase Tapley made perhaps the most aggravating turnover of the entire season. Off the inbound, he was immediately crowded by Broncos. Instead of calling a time out, and allowing Steve Fisher to draw up a play to drain the remaining clock, Tapley heaved a pass across court to Xavier Thames. In an attempt to keep the ball in play, Thames threw the ball towards the top of the key. Unfortunately, Anthony Drmic was the closest player to Thames. Drmic passed to Thomas Bropleh who hit a layup for the tie. 62-62.
San Diego State took a timeout with :20 left, preparing for the final shot. Xavier Thames drained the clock all the way down to 5 seconds before handing the ball off to Jamaal Franklin. Franklin attempted to create some space for a final second jump shot, but the Broncos had two defenders on him, and wouldn't allow him any room. With just :01 left, Franklin put up a desperation fall-away three... and nailed it. Final score: 65-62 SDSU Aztecs.
Franklin, who had fallen to the floor after throwing up his shot, got up, and calmly walked down the floor while his teammates celebrated around him. Was there ever a doubt that the game would end this way? These are the San Diego State Aztecs, they aren't familiar with easy wins. But somehow they find a way.
With very stiff competition on the horizon, and valuable seeding on the line, the Aztecs are going to need more of their patented magic.