The San Diego State men’s basketball team suffered a gut-wrenching loss to Utah State last weekend but still remain ranked as the sixth-best team in the nation.
In just their second defeat of the season, San Diego State fell in a back and forth battle that came down to the game’s final possession. Utah State’s Sam Merrill scored a wide-ranging 3-pointer with only 2.5 seconds left in the game. In the tournament championship’s final play, San Diego State’s Malachi Flynn put up a half-court prayer that clanked off the rim. Utah State won 59-56, reclaimed the conference tournament championship, and earned the Mountain West’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
San Diego State returns home in anticipation of hearing their team’s name being called on NCAA Selection Sunday. After the first four match-ups on Mar. 17 and 18, the first round of March Madness kicks off on Mar. 19, which is almost two weeks after San Diego State’s last game. The “Men from Montezuma” have time to regroup, refocus and get ready to play their best basketball under college basketball’s biggest spotlight, the NCAA Tournament.
San Diego State coach Brian Dutcher spoke to the media after the Utah State game about how he plans to prepare his team for the “Big Dance.” “It’s hard losing the conference championship in the last two seconds of the game. But we’ll bounce back. These kids are — they love basketball, so they’ll be back in the gym, then we’ll get them in the gym for practice, and we’ll find a way to get better. You’re not going to stay down that long. I mean, you look at all these conference tournaments; there are games like this all the time. You’ll see it next week. Teams will lose in the championships, but they’ll be ready to go for the NCAA Tournament, and that’s what we will do,” Dutcher said.
In a press conference on Mar. 9 back in San Diego, junior Matt Mitchell talked about how his team switched their perspective from Saturday’s loss to their preparation for the upcoming national tournament. “It’s a new week, a new day. You’ve got to look past it. You’ve got to move on. The next day has passed. I’m sure we’ll go back to look at the film and look at what we can do better and see where we can get better and we will. As far as the game and emotionally, mentally, I’m past it. We’re moving on. Now, it’s one and done, and we’re moving on to the tournament, so we’ve got to focus on that,” Mitchell said.
Malachi Flynn also talked to the media and shed some light on his thoughts about moving on to the March Madness tournament. “It’s exciting to be at this level, to finally be on the March Madness stage. It’s something I’m looking forward to, and I’m getting ready to play. I knew (the Aztecs had) been here year in and year out in the past. Coming here, this is what I wanted to do, and we’re here now,” Flynn. said
Back in late December, the Aztecs’ leading rebounder, Nathan Mensah, was diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism in his lungs. After being prescribed blood thinners, Mensah is abstaining from game action until the doctors determine that he is healthy enough to play again. Coach Dutcher talked about the possibility of having Mensah back in his line up for the start of the tournament. “He (Mensah) had a doctor’s appointment today and has another one tomorrow, so he’s in the medical protocol to check all the things and make sure that he gets cleared… I don’t have control over that, but I’m holding out hope that when we take the floor in our first NCAA Tournament game, Nathan will be in uniform and playing,” Dutcher said.
After sustaining a flawless record for the first three months of the season, San Diego State faced some recent adversity with two close losses to UNLV and Utah State. After the Utah State loss, Aztecs senior-transfer KJ Feagin spoke to the media about the slim margin between victory and defeat heading into the tournament. “Going into March, we just have to take away the mistakes and the small things and just the loose balls, the rebounds, the extra shots. We can’t give that to other teams. It’s just the little things. It’s a thin line, and you saw it happen today,” Feagin said.
With more than a week to recover and look forward to their next game, the Aztecs hope to learn from their losses and mentally prepare for the sudden-death nature of college basketball in March. The Aztecs look onward to Sunday at 3 p.m. when their seeding for the 2020 NCAA Tournament is revealed on CBS.