LAS VEGAS – It will be up to the NCAA selection committee to determine the Aggies postseason fate.
Utah State could never find a consistent rhythm on offense, missed too many free throws and gave up too many offensive rebounds to No. 20 San Diego State Saturday afternoon in the Mountain West Conference Tournament Championship game. That added up to a 62-57 loss for the Aggies.
“They’ve got a dynamite team; they’re very tough, very deep, very physical,” USU head coach Ryan Odom said of the Aztecs. “They just have a well-rounded bunch, and they keep coming at you.”
The Aztecs (27-6) followed up winning the regular season with capturing the tournament title and will be dancing in the NCAA Tournament next week with the automatic berth. San Diego State was headed to the tournament no matter the outcome.
“Congratulations to Utah State on making an incredible run to get to the finals,” SDSU head coach Brian Dutcher said. “They are primed and ready for the NCAA Tournament. They are a very good team, and we were fortunate to win today.”
Many believe the Aggies (26-8) are in too. The loss Saturday snapped a seven-game winning streak for USU.
“We gotta get some sleep, gotta go home and get some sleep,” said Aggie guard Steven Ashworth, who fouled out with eight seconds left. “... I’m very confident in the collective toughness that our team has to get ready for our next game, whoever it may be, wherever we have to travel. But sleep is a huge one.”
“We hope we’re in,” Odom said. “We don’t know. We’ll wait till Sunday and figure it out. We know we are going to be playing another game.”
USU dealt with some tough whistles, being called for 21 fouls to the Aztecs’ 13. Joining Ashworth in the fouled-out list was Dan Akin. Sean Bairstow had four.
Trailing 53-46 with three minutes to play, it was looking like the game was getting away from USU. San Diego State had scored five straight points.
The Aggies were able to get within 55-53 with 30 seconds to play. Akin scored off an Ashworth pass, then Ashworth made a layup off a Bairstow pass. Ashworth drained a 3-pointer off a pass from Taylor Funk on a wild scramble to make it a two-point game.
“We’re never going to give in,” Ashworth said. “We’re never going to give up, and we’re going to stand fearless in any opposition that we face.”
But the Aztecs made enough free throws to maintain the lead. San Diego State sank 9 of 10 in the final 43.5 seconds to seal the win. For the game, the Axztecs made 20 of 26 from the foul line.
“In a lot of ways, the game was won right there (free throws),” Odom said. “They (Aztecs) shot it well from the line.”
The Aggies were 7 of 14 from the foul line for the game.
The only other Aggie to join Ashworth in double-digit scoring was Trevin Dorius with 12 points. Akin and Bairstow each had seven points. Akin grabbed a team-best seven boards, while Funk, Dorius and Max Shulga each had six rebounds.
“They (Aztecs) are a good team,” Dorius said. “They’re pretty talented one through 15, however many guys play each game. They’re good, but we were fighting with them tooth and nail. We’re talented and deep. It just didn’t fall our way this time.”
The Aztecs were led by Jaedon LeDee with a game-high 15 points off the bench. LeDee also grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds. Matt Bradley netted 14 points.
“We are one of the few teams when the shot won’t go in, we can still find a way to win,” Dutcher said. “We can hang in there and make enough timely plays to win a game. … That’s what it looks like when you play three games in three days. You shoot on tired legs.”
The Aggies shot 37.1 percent from the field and really struggled from 3-point range, making just 4 of 24 shots. The Aztecs actually shot worse, making 33.3 percent from the field and just 2 of 19 from 3-point land.
Fifteen offensive rebounds that turned into 14 points was tough for USU to overcome.
“They (Aztecs) got quite a few offensive rebounds, too many, some that turned into extra baskets” Odom said. “If you are trying to win a championship like this, you’re not going to get it done in that fashion and give up that many.”
“They (Aztecs) did a really good job of crashing the offensive glass,” Ashworth said. “
The Aztecs scored first, but the Aggies led most of the first half. USU took its first lead after a 5-0 run to go up 7-4.
San Diego State used a 6-0 surge to build its biggest lead of the first half, 10-7 seven minutes into the contest. Ledee had four points.
Funk put the Aggies back in front with a 3-pointer off a pass from RJ Eytle-Rock.
Two minutes later USU had its biggest run of the first 20 minutes. A three-point play by Ashworth and a drive by Eytle-Rock as the shot clock was about to expire fueled a 12-2 run. Akin had a bucket, Dorius slammed down an alley-oop pass from Bairstow and Zee Hamoda capped it with a 3-pointer off a pass from Dorius.
“At that point of the game, we were playing well,” Dorius said. “And then I don’t really know what they did.”
The trey gave USU a 26-15 lead with 6:55 left in the first half. It would be the last field goal of the half for the Aggies.
The Aztecs used a 11-2 run to go into the locker room with some momentum. USU took a 29-28 lead into the break.
“The theme of the game, I think, and why we weren’t able to change it in our favor was just pace,” Odom said. “The pace of the game was played at their pace. It started at the end of the first half.. It hurts when you have a little bit of a lead and you go into the half and it’s tighter than you would really want.”
Neither team could get much going offensively to start the second half. There were three lead changes until San Diego State scored seven unanswered to get in front, 40-34, with 11:51 to play.
The Aggies battled back with a 6-0 run to get within two and seemingly took the lead with 6:19 to play when Funk got off a 3-pointer as the shot clock expired. The 3-pointer was called good, but after a long review was ruled no good.
“That was a difficult moment for sure,” Ashworth said. “We thought it was good. I’m a Nazi for the rules, and so I thought because they called it good they weren’t able to review it unless they called it a shot clock (violation) first. So, I was a little confused.”
The Aztecs then took control.
“I think it is more of a rivalry of respect with San Diego State, rather than hatred or animosity,” Ashworth said. “I think that’s what happens when you have the two best programs going at it four of the last five years, and we take pride in that. … We are trying to make sure we sustain what the people before us have done.
Utah State went into the game with a KenPom ranking of 18, while San Diego State was at 15. The Aggies had a NET ranking of 18, while the Aztecs were at 15. … The Aggies played in the MW tournament championship for the fourth time in the last five years – all against San Diego State – are 2-2 in those games. … USU is now 18-108 all-time against Associated Press Top-25 opponents, including an 0-3 record under head coach Ryan Odom. USU is also 1-8 all-time against San Diego State when the Aztecs are nationally ranked. … The Aggies were outrebounded, 45-37, for just the ninth time this season and the first time in eight games. ... The Aggie bench was outscored for just the 10th time this season, 35-16, and are 5-5 in those games. … USU finished with 13 assists and lost for just the third time (25-3) when finishing with more dimes than an opponent, as San Diego State had seven. … Steven Ashworth reached double figures in scoring for the 29th time this season. … The Aggies trail in the all-time series with the Aztecs, 18-9.
San Diego State guard Matt Bradley was named the tournament MVP. He averaged 11.7 points a game.
Bradley was joined on the all-tournament team by USU’s Steven Ashworth and Taylor Funk, SDSU’s Jaedon LeDee and Boise State’s Tyson Degenhart.
There was one Aggie dunk in the first half when Trevin Dorius took an alley-oop pass from Sean Bairstow and deposited it. Dorius took a pass from Taylor Funk to start the second half and threw it down. Dorius made it three dunks with another one midway through the second half.
Season leaders are: Dan Akin 45, Dorius 30, Bairstow 15, Funk 10, Zee Hamoda 5 and Szymon Zapala 1, Max Shulga 1.
Senior big man Trevin Dorius gets the nod. He finished with 12 points on 6 of 10 shooting. The center also grabbed six rebounds, dished out an assist and blocked a shot in 20 minutes of action.
The Aggies will now await the NCAA selection committee. Many believe Utah State will be playing in the NCAA Tournament. The selection show will be televised at 4 p.m. on CBS.
Welcome to the discussion.
We welcome comments, however there are some guidelines:
Keep it Clean: Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexual language. Don't Threaten: Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated. Be Truthful: Don't lie about anyone or anything. Be Nice: No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading. Be Proactive: Report abusive posts and don’t engage with trolls. Share with Us: Tell us your personal accounts and the history behind articles.