When you score a season-low 57 points, it’s usually going to mean you suffered a loss.
The Aggies had their seven-game winning streak snapped Saturday afternoon at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas in the Mountain West Tournament Championship. No. 18 San Diego State was able to overcome an 11-point first half deficit and back up its regular season title with the tournament championship, 62-57.
“The pace of the game was played at their pace,” USU head coach Ryan Odom said. “And more so than what we would have wanted. And it started kind of at the end of that first half, heading into halftime where we were up and then all of a sudden they whittled it down to a one-point game at halftime. While we were still up one, our guys were still understanding that it’s a long game. You can’t win a game in the first half. But it does hurt you when you have a little bit of a lead like that and then you go into half and it’s tighter than you would really want.”
The Aggies (26-8) would be in front for more than 20 minutes. However, the Aztecs (27-6) took the lead for good with 15:33 to play. USU was dealing with foul trouble, but kept it close. San Diego State’s biggest lead was eight points.
“Obviously we were in foul trouble at that point,” Odom said. “He’s (Steven Ashworth) sitting on the bench. And that makes it difficult. But the other guys did well. We just couldn’t make a shot, and we weren’t very good on offense, quite honestly, at that juncture. But they had a lot to do with that. Their pressure, the fatigue a little bit set in on us and we just weren’t moving our bodies appropriately.”
Ashworth and Dan Akin both fouled out in the closing minute of the game. Sean Bairstow had four fouls for the final four minutes.
USU struggled to find the bottom of the net, especially from beyond the arc. The Aggies shot a season-low 16.7 percent from 3-point range (4 of 24). San Diego State wasn’t much better from 3-point land, making just 2 of 19.
Utah State actually shot better from the field for the game, 37.1 per cent to San Diego State’s 33.3 percent. However, the Aztecs grabbed 15 offensive rebounds and scored seven of them.
“Our defense is really what helps propel our offense a lot of times to play up pace and get in transition and when we’re not securing those shots on the defensive end, the first chance we get it’s hard to get out and run and really get our pace,” said Ashworth, who led the Aggies with 13 points. “They did a really good job of crashing the offensive glass. Then when they did make a shot they’re obviously in that somewhat full-court pressure to minimize our opportunities to get into the flow of the offense, which we just gotta watch the film and do a little bit better next time.
The Aztecs held their opponents at the tournament to an average of 55.7 points a game. It was the seventh MW tournament title for San Diego State.
USU had its chances Saturday. Open looks that didn’t go down, some missed layups and missing some half of its free throws (7 of 14) didn’t help the cause. The Aggies also had a 3-point shot by Taylor Funk that was originally called good waved off after review for a shot clock violation. Many feel the shot was in time.
Had the 3-pointer counted, USU would have taken a 47-46 lead with 6:19 to play. Instead, the Aggies soon found themselves down 53-46.
“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 Aggies did battle back to within 55-53 with 30 seconds to play, but would get no closer.
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 Matt Bradley with a game-high 16 points. Jaedon LeDee came off the bench to record a double-double with 13 points and a game-best 10 rebounds.
“We are one of the few teams when the shot won’t go in, we can still find a way to win,” SDSU head coach Brian 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.”
Utah State went into the tournament championship 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 — and 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. … USU came in at No. 31 in the final AP Top 25 Poll, which came out Monday morning. The Aggies also received votes in the USA Today Top 25 Poll, coming in at No. 32. ... 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.
The Aggies will now play on Thursday in the NCAA Tournament as a 10th seed against seventh-seeded Missouri (24-9). The game will be televised on TNT and tip off at 11:40 a.m. MT. Missouri lost to top-seeded Alabama in the semifinals of the SEC tournament on Saturday.
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