LAS VEGAS -- Even though the Mountain West conference had a down year this season which led to (likely) only one team headed to the NCAA tournament, the Mountain West conference tournament can always be counted on for a tough fought match up. San Diego State and Fresno State kept the tradition alive on Saturday afternoon. But, only one team could come out on top and call themselves "champ." Today it is the Fresno State Bulldogs as they beat the Aztecs 68-63.
In the first half, both Malik Pope and Marvelle Harris dominated for their respective teams. However, some of the most important contributors for the Bulldogs did not have an efficient first 20 minutes including Karachi Edo with only 3 points and Julien Lewis who had none. And things were not that different on the Aztec side either, as Pope was the only player on his team to score in double figures. His team's 3-point percentage was a dismal 25% in the first half as well.
The second half would be the difference maker. It would not only come down to offensive rhythm and continued contributions from each squad's big time players, but it would come down to defensive stops.
Both of these teams exemplified toughness from start to finish. They both were not going to give the other an easy lay up, something that became clear when Fresno was hit with a flagrant-one foul that allowed Winston Shepard to get to the free throw line. Midway through the second half, SDSU's size and strength began to overwhelm the Bulldogs. But, the Bulldogs never let the Aztecs get carried away.
With just 7:32 left in the game, things were all tied up at 54 and the match up became a track meet. The off the bench contributions of Fresno's Jahmel Taylor were vital for the Bulldogs who provided his team a couple of key three pointers. As SDSU locked down on Marvelle Harris, it was essential for the Bulldogs to counter with other members of their squad. So, when Julien Lewis - starter - came out of his scoring silence with a 3-pointer with just 1:30 minutes left in the game to put Fresno up by 2, it was vital for Fresno's momentum.
With just under 30 seconds to go, SDSU's Dakari Allen went to the line to tie the game up after being fouled on the drive. He made the first. But, missed the second. Then, with just 6.9 seconds to go, the Bulldogs were now up by 3 with Julien Lewis at the line to seemingly ice the game. And, he did.
Fresno State earns the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Where does that leave the Aztecs? Can they make it into the NCAAs without their automatic bid? We will find out tomorrow.
*Marvelle Harris earned tournament MVP