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Spartans meet an immovable object and an unstoppable force in semifinal loss

SJSU guard Omari Moore (10) vs. San Diego State in Mountain West semifinal game, Thomas & Mack Center, March 10, 2023
photo by: Terrell Lloyd

An imposing, postseason-experienced San Diego State (26-6, 16-3 MW) team dominated San Jose State (20-13, 10-9 MW) in the Mountain West semifinals 64-49 Friday night.

From start to finish, the 20th-ranked Aztecs forced offensive awkwardness upon the Spartans mainly by sealing off Mountain West Player-of-the-Year Omari Moore with outstanding perimeter and interior defense.

San Diego State chimes in

“He’s a great player but we’re going to make his life as hard as possible,” said Aztec guard Darrion Trammell. “He likes to get downhill and he uses the screens really well. Our whole thing was to switch and make all his catches hard and press him the whole game; all the little things you need to do against a great player like Omari.”

Aztec forward Keshad Johnson added, “Omari’s a great player and pro prospect. You can clearly see that. He’s great going downhill and making others around him better and he’s a great leader.”

In true sportsmanship fashion, the two Aztecs exchanged pleasantries and mutual respect behind-the-scenes at the post-game interviews with both Tibet Gorener and Omari Moore in light of what the Spartans accomplished this year regardless of the rationalization going around to the contrary.

Trammell and Johnson each with 15 points led a stymieing stout signature defense that kept the Spartans completely at bay. As the deepest team in the conference, SDSU’s sixth title game in a row is a testament to Aztec head coach Bryan Dutcher’s defensive mantra.

“Our depth is our strength,” said Dutcher. “We have nine players who can score on any given night, but all can play defense or they wouldn’t be here.”

Successfully stopping Omari Moore

Though SJS kept it close in opening the first-half, the Aztecs collective speed and strength forced 34.5% shooting marked by two five-minute Spartan scoring droughts in the first-half.

Next-man up and Spartan wingman Gorener’s 10 first-half points led any hope and chance, but each time the Aztecs would match any Spartan scoring effort.

Moore started well going two-for-two in the early minutes, but went zero for 10 with no field goal until 1:43 left in the game; ending with seven points for the evening.

“They’re one of the best defenses in the country to be completely honest,” said an emotional and dejected Moore. “They typically have a good game plan with great defending guards and two-time defensive player-of-the-year in Lamont Butler.”

Gorener’s 15 points matched the game high ended up being the only sign-of-life for SJS.

Gritty guard play by Alvaro Cardenas was largely ineffective against the stronger Aztecs, as no secondary scoring appeared.

“We had no Robin,” said Miles referring the Batman and Robin on the offensive doldrum. “You need a secondary scorer and Tibet did well, but by itself, it just wasn’t enough.”

“We also started with six points in the paint, then in the second half ended up with 28 in the paint and San Diego had 26, but tonight we probably needed something like 40 points in the paint,” added Miles.

In the second-half, the Aztecs kept doing what they’ve done all year long - collective smothering defense in front of raucous home crowd who travels well.

Other Spartans tried desperately to step up with the realization the scoring would need to come from others not named Omari Moore.

“We tried to get Omari under their five-man to try and get an advantage, but we just couldn’t get the corner turned on any of it,” said Miles in scheme responses to the Aztec pressure. “We also tried to keep our five down and out of the way and track their three or four man and any match up we might like there, but it was all for naught tonight.”

In similar respect and sportsmanship between post-game podium switches, Dutcher shared a moment of appreciation with what Miles had accomplished.

With the post season possibly not completely over, the Spartans can consider their historical Mountain West run in Miles’ year two well-recognized by their player and coaching peers.

SJSU forward Tibet Gorener scores two of his 15 points in the Mountain West semifinals against San Diego State, Thomas & Mack Arena, March 10, 2023
photo by: Terrell Lloyd