LAS VEGAS – The Utah State basketball led for most the game, but missed chances eventually doomed the Aggies. San Diego State held on to win 71-65, ending USU’s season record at 16-15 in Tim Duryea’s inaugural year at head coach.
“Tough loss to end our year,” Duryea said. “I thought our guys really battled.
“Somebody is going to win, somebody is going to lose, but I was extremely proud of them today.”
Leading by two with less than two minutes remaining, senior guard Chris Smith missed a corner 3 that was rebounded by Aztec forward Zylan Cheatham, but soon after confusion ensued. Lew Evans hit the floor and Cheatham was called for an intentional foul. Duryea said he thought USU would get shots, but after a referee video review the call was reversed.
“I thought we would have free throws and maybe the ball, or at least free throws,” Duryea said. “The explanation given to me was that when they blow the whistle they can go over and look at it and they can take the foul back. They determined it was now an intentional foul, it was not a flagrant foul and then they determined it was not a foul.”
After the reversal, the ball ended up in Malik Pope’s hands, who tied the game on a jumper. Then, after another Aggie miss, Kell’s floater gave his team the lead with less than one minute left.
“I saw Malik gave me an angle to the rim,” Kell said. “I took it and was happy to finish.”
Aggie forward Quinn Taylor was fouled the next time down the court. With 18.2 seconds left on the clock, he had a chance to tie with two free throws, but missed both. SDSU’s rebound attempt knocked the ball out of bounds, giving the Aggies another chance. Jalen Moore took that chance, drove to the hoop, but the ball didn’t go in.
“I wanted to at least get a shot up in case we missed,” Moore said. “That way we’d have enough time to foul them … to give us enough time to put a little pressure on them.”
Aztec Winston Sheppard got the rebound, was fouled, and hit one free throw. The two teams traded fouls and free throws until the clock ran out, and SDSU advanced to the semifinals.
Four Aggies, Lew Evans (15), Jalen Moore (14), Julion Pearre (12) and Shane Rector (11) scored in double digits, but Aztec guard Trey Kell led the game with 17. The Aggies were able to outrebound the Aztecs 40-33.
“You can’t ask for much more than that against that group, to outrebound them by seven,” Duryea said.
USU led for more than 14 minutes during the first half and 24 during the game. The first-half lead peaked at 29-21 lead when Rector stole SDSU’s inbound pass and converted it into Aggie points, but fouls began to add up and hurt USU. Evans, Quinn Taylor and Elston Jones each had three first-half fouls, which left the Aggies vulnerable under the basket. The Aztecs retook the lead after a late 9-0 run and entered halftime leading 36-35.
“That was us being undisciplined,” Duryea said. “We got into foul trouble early on.”
After hitting their first four 3-pointers in the second half, San Diego State was able to extend the lead to 47-41 before the Aggies fought back and retook it with 12:44 to go. Neither team led by more than six points during the second half.
San Diego will play the winner of New Mexico and Nevada.