LAS VEGAS, Nev -- So close.
Seven minutes from slipping on Cinderella’s slipper.
And yet so far.
The San Diego State Aztecs denied the University of New Mexico Lobos their bid to the Big Dance with an 82-75 victory on Saturday in the Mountain West championship at the Thomas & Mack Center.
With the win, the Aztecs (22-10) earned the automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament. The defeat dashed the Lobos (19-15) hopes of an NCAA bid and snapped their seven-game winning streak.
As the buzzer sounded, Anthony Mathis pulled his jersey up to cover his face in obvious disappointment as the Aztecs celebrated at midcourt, living the Lobos’ happy ending instead of him and his teammates.
And yet … it appeared UNM’s NCAA dream might become reality as the Lobos held a 63-57 lead with 7:39 to play in the second half.
Momentum seemed to have swung squarely in the Lobos’ favor.
Not for long.
The San Diego State Aztecs responded with a pair of difficult 3-pointers, including an and-1 on the second trey to spark a 15-2 run to take a 72-65 edge with 3:57 left. The flurry seemed to deflate the Lobos, who weren’t able to get closer than four points the rest of the way.
SDSU guard Trey Kell took over the game late and finished with a game-high 28 points, including 22 in the second half.
Five Lobos scored in double figures, led by Antino Jackson with 17 points. The others in double digits were Mathis (13), Joe Furstinger (12), Sam Logwood (11), and Troy Simons (11).
“You have to tip your cap to San Diego State,” Lobos Coach Paul Weir said in his postgame media conference. “It’s a great team. They deserve to win the championship …
“Unfortunately for me and for us, that means the end of an amazing run with a tremendous group of young men that I’ll never forget.
“I wish I could give them a different ending because they worked so hard and they gave so much … you want to reward them for things like that.”
Saturday’s game could be the final one for UNM’s three seniors -- Furstinger, Logwood and Jackson.
Weir said he wasn’t sure at this time if the Lobos might play in a lesser postseason tournament like the CBI or similar pay-for-play event because of financial costs, facilities and other considerations.