Hope, elation, disappointment, then a Rams fans court storm.
The Aztecs knew what they were getting themselves into at a sold-out Moby Arena.
“It’s going to be crazy at Moby Arena, they are going to be desperate, but we have to be desperate too,” Dutcher said before the game.
The Aztecs were the definition of desperate.
After the Aztecs trailed 47-27, they finished on a 30-9 run over the final ten minutes, capitalized by a Lamont Butler three to take the only Aztec lead with 14 seconds left in the game. But in a fastbreak madness down the court, David Roddy hit the game-winning field goal to win the game 58-57 for the Rams.
In the altitude, down as many as 20 points. The Aztecs never quit. The second-half run featured Matt Bradley threes, stifling Aztec defense, a full-court press, and an opportunity to win.
This game felt near identical to the Aztecs matchup against the Rams last year at Viejas. Last year, the Aztecs led by 26 points over Colorado State, and the Rams came back and won in dramatic fashion. Tonight, the Aztecs fell just short.
There were parallels to the Aztecs and Rams’ first matchup this season. For the Aztecs defensively, they again forced the Rams to shoot a poor 26% from three. They outrebounded the Rams 43-30, including a dominating 18-6 offensive rebound advantage, and they forced 15 Colorado State turnovers.
But offensively, the Aztecs were nowhere near the same. The Aztecs went from shooting 48% from the field and 48% from the three-point line in the first matchup to shooting 30% tonight and 31% from three. The Aztecs also had 17 turnovers.
In the first matchup, the Aztecs also had five players in double figures. Tonight, they had one.
That player was Matt Bradley. He was superb as he finished with 27 points. He hit threes, battled into the lane, and did everything in his power to will the Aztecs to victory.
It was an orange-out for the fans and players in Fort Collins. Once a year, for the last decade, the Rams have worn orange. They are now 8-2 in those games. The orange raucous environment brought out nerves for both teams and even the scoreboard team. Through the opening ten minutes, both teams combined for 5-for-26 shooting and 11 turnovers. The teams couldn’t find much rhythm with multiple game stoppages for the shot and game clock and scoreboard malfunctions.
“This environment took me out of the game in the first half,” Dutcher said. “They couldn’t hear me. I couldn’t call plays. I tried to call plays with hand signals.”
The entire first half was unpleasant to watch offensively. The Rams led 23-18, but their 34% shooting from the field was better than SDSU’s abysmal 21% shooting.
The Rams wore orange tonight as an ode to their old team, which was the Colorado State Aggies. Something about playing the Aggies has led bad second-half starts for the Aztecs. Like the Utah State game where the Aggies started the second half on a 13-2 run. Tonight, the Rams opened the second half on a 10-2 run and immediately put the Aztecs on their heels.
For the last three halves, the Aztecs shut down a Rams team that ranks 17th in offensive efficiency and 7th ineffective FG%. But in the second half, their offense came alive as they scored 26 points in the opening 10 minutes and finished shooting 47% in the second half.
David Roddy, after missing the game-winning free throw against Wyoming in the Rams last game, had a superb second-half performance. He opened the half with seven quick points. Dutcher said before the game, “He’s a tight end playing basketball. He’s a three-level scorer. He’s hard to guard because he’s quick, and he’s strong.” Every Aztec defender had a chance to guard him, but he finished with 22 points and, of course hit the game winner.
With both teams as physical as they are, the first matchup saw 43 foul calls. When asked about what he thought about the officiating before the game, Dutcher said, “It all depends on what three guys you have in those stripe shirts. Sometimes they let you play, and it can be physical with no calls, and sometimes it can be physical with a lot of free throws.”
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There were some questionable calls for the Aztecs, Bradley particularly. The final possession featured Bradley bullying into the lane and drew contact for the game-winning shot, but there was no foul call. He also was charged a foul call on an incredible all-ball block on David Roddy’s dunk attempt and a dubious charge call in the first half.
The officials let the players play more tonight as there was 34 fouls, but there was flop calls on both teams that led to technical and a double technical called on Trey Pulliam and Isaiah Stevens.
Now, something the Aztecs must get used to for the rest of the season, quick recovery. They play Nevada Sunday at Viejas, which will continue the Aztecs stretch of 11 games in 30 days.
The Aztecs will need a short memory and get over this brutal defeat.
“We play at Sunday at 1. We have to fly home, prepare for one day, and play a game at 1 o’clock on Sunday after all the energy that we put into this one,” Dutcher said. “We can’t sit here and obsess over a loss and let it turn into two or three losses.”
Class of 2022 at San Diego State University. Communication major and pursuing a sports journalism profession. Season ticket holder of the SDSU MBB team since 2011. Fondest memory of Viejas Arena is Aztec legend, Dwayne Polee sparking a 19-1 run over New Mexico to win the MW Conference in 2014.