San Diego State (24-8, 16-2) fans can breathe a collective sigh of relief, as their team escaped Mountain West Tournament quarterfinals play in Las Vegas against a game Utah State (16-15, 7-11) squad by the narrowest of margins. It really did not look good the majority of the game for SDSU.
The contest remained in question all the way up until the final seconds, when Utah State gift wrapped a win by committing costly back to back flagrant fouls with 3 seconds remaining. The score was 66-65 in the Aztecs favor at that point.
There was some confusion on the first flagrant foul as it occurred before the ball was inbounded. Julion Pearre, Utah State guard, patted Dakarai Allen in order to draw a regular foul, but a technical was called instead, and as the announcers of the game explained, a recent rule implemented elevated the severity of a foul in a scenario where the ball is out of bounds to that level. Mentioning it was done to deter the "hack-a-shaq" strategy.
San Diego State exorcised demons on the free throw line from there going 5 of 6 to close out the game 71-65.
I do not know if the early game tip off of 12:00 PM PST had to do with San Diego State's sloppy play but they looked like the inferior team today. Utah State the 9th seed in the conference tournament out hustled the top seeded Aztecs and lead for most of the game, aided by the performances of Jalen Moore (who played all 40 minutes) and Lew Evans. The pair collectively contributed to 29 of the Aggies 65 points and secured 16 boards of an incredible 40 for the team.
Yes 40 rebounds, Utah State surprisingly controlled the boards (40 to 33), despite their length deficiencies, allowing them to limit the Aztecs offensive opportunities. With that said, the game never got out of reach. As soon as Utah State started to pull away, the Aztecs answered the call to keep themselves close.
In fact the largest lead the Aggies had during the second half was of five points, 59-54 at the 5:24 mark, even if it felt bigger than that.
So while San Diego State won in the end, they cannot afford another performance like this if they want to win this tournament. And according to bracketologist Jerry Palm during a half time conversation, this is the only route to the NCAA Tournament for SDSU.
Next up for San Diego State are the conference semifinals and the Nevada Wolf Pack (19-12, 10-8). Utah State eliminated by today's results is in all likelihood done for the year unless they get invited to one of the lower level postseason tournaments like the CBI or Vegas 16.