San Diego State closed out its regular season with a win at UNLV, 71-62, and in doing that clinched the Mountain West Conference regular season title.
The Aztecs were tied with the Runnin’ Rebels 28-28 with 1:49 left in the first half. San Diego State then went on a 14-0 run over the next 4:14 of game time to go up 42-28 and never looked back.
UNLV made a small 7-0 run midway through the second half to get the game back to single digits, 53-45, but San Diego State responded with a 9-0 run of its own to get the game back to double digits, 62-45, and the Aztecs controlled the rest of the way.
“The margin of error for that team (San Diego State) is very, very little,” UNLV guard David Jenkins said. “They went on a run because their defense is really solid and they don’t make too many mistakes. We kind of settled at times in the shot clock when we should have taken advantage of them in transition or later in the shot clock because a lot of team defenses...when the shot clock goes late tend to break down.”
Three Aztecs scored in double figures. Matt Mitchell led San Diego State with 19 points. Jordan Schakel, who was suffering lower back problems, gave the Aztecs 16 points and nine rebounds, with four made 3-pointers. Nathan Mensah added 14 points and was a perfect six of six from the free throw line.
Jenkins was the only source of offense for the Runnin’ Rebels. He scored 32 of the team’s 62 points on 11 of 23 shooting, and he hit seven 3-pointers. No other Runnin’ Rebel scored more than nine points.
The Aztecs’ defensive pressure was felt on Bryce Hamilton. UNLV’s leading scorer to this point was held to only nine points on three of 14 shooting. Hamilton was extremely inefficient for UNLV as he missed eight mid-range jumpers and two layups.
Despite only shooting 36.4% from the field as a team, San Diego State took advantage of its chances at the free throw line, hitting 22 of 26, while UNLV only got to the charity stripe nine times, making seven. The Aztecs hit 15 of 18 free throws in the second half.
“We did a good job defensively, I felt like early in the game, of keeping them off the foul line,” UNLV head coach T.J. Otzelberger said. “But as the game wore on their physicality gave us trouble and they continued to get to that line. When you look at the numbers, that’s the difference maker in the game right there...We had too many fouls that were not in scoring plays, away from the basket that ended up putting them at the line.”
The two teams were originally scheduled to play Dec. 31 and Jan. 1 of this season, but COVID-19 issues within UNLV caused those two games to be postponed. Last week, the Mountain West Conference announced a list of 10 makeup games, which meant UNLV and San Diego State would play this season after all.
Last season, UNLV ended San Diego State’s bid for a perfect season, upsetting the then 26-0 Aztecs 66-63 in Viejas Arena. This was the first matchup between both teams since that game.
Currently, San Diego State is technically tied with Colorado State at 14-3 for first place in the MWC standings, but the Aztecs have two more wins because of the New Mexico series, that was not played, that awarded two wins for San Diego State for the purpose of conference seeding.
The Aztecs were 9.5 point favorites entering the game, which made the sequence below very important to some:
San Diego State was a 9.5 point favorite. They led by 12 with 32.9 seconds left and then this sequence happened pic.twitter.com/dbBNRwNzF0— Tyler Bischoff (@Bischoff_Tyler) March 4, 2021
San Diego State will wait until the quarterfinals of the MWC Tournament, next Thursday, March 11 to play its next game. UNLV still has one more regular season game, they travel to Wyoming to face the Cowboys Saturday night at 8 p.m. PT on CBS Sports Network.