Aztecs capture seventh tournament title with a 62-57 victory over Utah State
Since 2014, SDSU has advanced to the Mountain West Championship Game nine times. Their record in those contests was just 2-7, including a brutal 53-52 loss to Boise State in the MW championship last year. The Aztecs entered Saturday afternoon’s contest looking for redemption.
“I can’t even remember all those games, to be honest with you,” SDSU head coach Brian Dutcher said about being recently unsuccessful in MW championship games. “I just know they are hard-fought. We are asking these kids to do an impossible task and to play under 24 hours from completing the (last) game. That is March basketball.”
SDSU took on Utah State in the 2023 MW title game. Before today’s matchup, the Aztecs and Agggies have met in three of the past four championship games, with Utah State coming out on top in two. Behind the elite defense that they displayed throughout the tournament, SDSU won 62-57 to claim their conference-leading 15th title.
The first 10 minutes were very physical. Both defenses were top-tier. Nathan Mensah’s assist to Keshad Johnson for a slam dunk started the scoring. With fatigue setting in after playing three games in three days, both squads were determined to get to the basket.
The Aggies started better in the first 9:03 of the first, shooting 40% from the field, while the Aztecs were shooting 29%.
At the 10:35 mark, USU’s Steven Ashworth missed a wide-open lay-up, and the Aztecs recovered the rebound. On SDSU’s ensuing possession, Ashworth stole the ball from Adam Seiko. He took it to the rim for a lay-up and was fouled by Lamont Butler.
The play gave the Aggies momentum. Starting from Ashworth’s lay-up, USU went on a 9-2 run, making it 23-15 and forcing Dutcher to take a timeout.
Coming out of the break, the Red and Black still struggled to get going, and the Aggies continued building their lead. Zee Hamoda hit a three to make it 26-15 at the 6:57 mark to extend their run.
Micah Parrish’s jumper finally halted USU’s advance and got his team going on both sides of the ball.
The Aztecs started to play lockdown defense and went on a 13-3 run to end the half, finished with a Seiko three that blew the roof off the Thomas & Mack Center. USU led 29-28 at intermission.
The Aggies relied on going to the rim pretty much all half. They got 18 of their 29 points in the paint. They were an ice-cold 22% beyond the arc.
SDSU’s bench contributed tremendously in the first half with 17 points.
No player for each side was in double-digit scoring, but the big man for each team led in points. Trevin Dorius paced the Aggies with six points, and Jaedon Ledee led the Aztecs with eight.
SDSU was great on the glass in the first 20 minutes and led 26-18 but missed six layups in ten attempts.
After USU went 0-4 from the field to start the second half, Dorius did not miss the fifth attempt. He converted a slam dunk to give the Aggies a three-point advantage.
At the 16:09 mark, Aztecs guard Matt Bradley executed a three from the right wing to give SDSU a 33-31.
On the Aggies’ ensuing trip, Ashworth nailed a three to give them the lead.
Bradley made a layup, and Aguek Arop converted a jumper as the Aztecs went on a 9-0 run to grab the lead and increase it to six.
Max Shulga stopped the spurt with a jumper that went off the backboard and in. It ignited a 6-0 counter by USU as they cut the lead to two.
Keshad Johnson posterized Taylor Funk with an emphatic dunk to increase SDSU’s lead to four at the 8:06 mark.
SDSU continued attacking in the paint. They converted at the free throw line and played lockdown defense, forcing USU to miss baskets and turn the ball over.
With 3:03 left, Darrion Trammell hit a jump to extend the advantage to 53-46. Aggie head coach Ryan Odem called a timeout, and the Aztec faithful inside the Thomas and Mack came to their feet as one.
Two Aggie lay-ups made it a three-point game with 48 seconds remaining. Johnson made an inbound pass to Butler. It was swatted away by Ashworth but deflected off SDSU’s point guard.
The Aggies retained possession but could not convert a basket. Arop was fouled after securing the rebound. He went to the line and made both free throws to make it a five-point game.
On USU’s ensuing possession, Ashworth buried a three on the right corner to cut the Aztecs’ lead to two. Two free throws by Adam Seiko pushed the lead back to four.
The Aggies’ next possession ended in a turnover. Arop was fouled again. This time, he made one-of-two free throws. The Aztecs led 58-53.
USU converted two more layups, but each time SDSU stepped to the line and knocked down clutch free throws.
The clock ticked down, the horn buzzed, and the Aztecs won the Mountain West Championship, 62-57.
SDSU celebrated at center court, Bradley won the Most Valuable Player, and the team cut down the nets for the second time in a week.
“Congratulations to Utah State on an incredible run to get to the finals,” Dutcher said postgame. “We’re very fortunate to win today. We’re one of the few teams when the shot won’t go in, you can still find a way to win.”
Both teams shot poorly from the field overall, 37% for USU and 33% for SDSU. For the Aztecs, it was the free throws that provided the difference. They converted 20-of-26 from the charity stripe.
Bradley had a team-leading 16 points and shot 6-for-14 from the field. The San Bernardino native, who posts a prayer on his Instagram story before every game, talked about what went through his head when he posted the prayer this morning.
“The prayer today was much needed,” Bradley said postgame. “I’m just thankful for everything that took place, especially God, my teammates…it’s a good feeling right now.”
The Aztecs had 33 bench points, outrebounded USU 45-37, and had a four-point advantage (7-3) in fast break points.
Ledee, who had 13 points on four-for-eight shooting, contributed mightily off the bench this season and talked about how much this championship win meant to him.
“It feels good to win,” Ledee said. “I kind of watched from the sidelines last year and know how they felt last year. I told Matt that we make sure to go out with a bang…so it feels good. We got another task ahead of us.”
Next stop for the Aztecs is the NCAA tournament.
Adam is a senior at San Diego State University studying journalism & media studies. He is a huge sports fanatic who was born and raised in Vancouver, B.C. His favorite sports teams are the Montreal Canadiens, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Diego Padres, Toronto Raptors, and San Diego Wave FC. He also writes and reports for The Daily Aztec. When he graduates, he wants to become a sports writer or reporter for a news organization or TV station.