The stars aligned over Las Vegas today, granting the Utah State Aggies the favor of the MWC Madness gods. That's the only explanation I can come up with for the miracle that occurred in the Thomas & Mack Center earlier this afternoon. Colorado State did almost everything conceivable to send the Aggies packing home on the first day of the MWC Tourney; it wasn't enough, though, as USU orchestrated one of the most impressive comebacks on tournament history.
After taking the lead early in the game, USU squandered a ten point first half advantage and went into the break tied with the Rams. Dwight Smith led the CSU charge, ultimately scoring 21 points in a career-high performance. The momentum carried over into the second half as CSU dominated the next eighteen minutes of play. USU seemingly could not stop the Rams' attack, and was struggling to find any momentum on offense themselves. Things were looking bleak for the Aggies heading into the final minutes of the game; the Rams lead by eleven points and there appeared to be no answer in sight.
Fortunately for the Aggies, there are 20 minutes in a half, and two minutes was far more time than they needed. The Rams went 5-7 on free throws in the final three minutes, Jon Octeus and Smith each made jump shots, but when the gods' favor shines on your opponent, there's nothing you can do to stem the flood of vengeful March Madness retribution. With less than a minute and a half to go in the game, TeNale Roland made a layup, Jalen Moore made a three pointer and got a quick steal, Spencer Butterfield made a quick three, and things started falling apart for the Rams. CSU's Daniel Bejarano got called for a technical foul, Butterfield made both free throws, and in the space of less than 45 seconds, the Aggies went from a nine point deficit to a one point lead.
Octeus ran the length of the court unimpeded and made a quick layup, but it was too little, too late. Two clutch free throws by Moore and another four by Butterfield slammed the door shut on any last ditch efforts by the Rams, and the Aggies came away with one of the most exciting wins of the season.
With the win, USU moves forward to play regular season conference champ San Diego State. A mere 20 hours to prep for the game will no doubt leave USU's players tired physically- I'm sure they'll be exhausted emotionally, as well- heading into the game. The Aztecs will be fresh and ready for a fight; this scrappy Aggie team will be eager, however, to show they have more excitement to offer on the altar of MWC Madness.