Mountain West semifinal preview: #1 San Diego State vs. #5 San Jose State

Micah Parrish against Colorado State in the MW Tournament. (Nicole Noel/EVT)

Kehad Johnson dunks against Colorado State. (Nicole Noel/EVT)

Path to the Semifinal

The San Diego State Aztecs won a nail-biter game against the Colorado State Rams in the quarterfinals.

SDSU won the game with under a minute to go, thanks to pairs of free throws by Matt Bradley and Nathan Mensah. The Aztecs survived and sent the Rams packing with a 64-61 win.

Butler led SDSU with 16 points on 5-for-14 shooting. Bradley finished with 13 points. He was 4-for-8 from the field.

They advanced to the semifinals to play the San Jose State Spartans.

The Spartans had a decent season, 20-12 overall and 10-8 in the Mountain West, on their way to the semifinals match-up. 

Early in the season, SJSU took bad losses against Hofstra, 85-76, and North Texas, 69-54. Down the stretch, they had big wins against Utah State on Feb. 11, 69-64, and Boise State on Feb. 25, 74-68 in overtime. 

In their quarterfinal matchup yesterday, they took on the Nevada Wolf Pack. They were up at the half, 31-26, but were outscored by Nevada in the second half, sending the game into overtime. Ultimately, they won the battle in the paint, 46-26, which helped them to an 81-77 victory.

“Obviously, the significance of 20 wins and the first postseason win in history is awesome,” SJSU head coach Tim Miles said postgame. “These guys deserve that, they are tremendous workers, and they are really a fun bunch to coach.”

Omari Moore led the team with 26 points on 11-for-25 shooting. Sage Tolbert played really well in support, finishing with 20 points on eight-for-13 shooting.

Lamont Butler had 16 on Thursday. (Nicole Noel/EVT)

Regular Season Meeting Between the Teams

The Aztecs only got to play SJSU once this season. It came in Viejas Arena, and the final score was 72-51 SDSU.

SDSU limited the Spartans to 21% from beyond the arc, and the main scorers were Robert Vaihola with 12 points off the bench and Moore with 11 points.

Keshad Johnson, who had a double-double in his previous two games, came up two rebounds short of a third-straight double-double but finished with 16 points. Bradley was right behind with 14 points.

After the Spartans’ 81-77 win against Nevada in the quarterfinal, Moore touched on playing the Aztecs for the second time this season.

“They are a really good team, and they got us pretty good at their place,” Moore said postgame. “This is definitely a good opportunity for us to play them again and kind of get our get back. We are definitely excited for it.” 

Nevada defeated SJSU twice in the regular season before the Spartans got their revenge on Thursday. They will be looking to duplicate the result against the Aztecs.

Keshad Johnson finishes around the rim. (Nicole Noel/EVT)

Player to Watch 

The player, the Aztecs, will need to keep an eye on is Tolbert. He had 20 points and six rebounds (all defensive rebounds) against the Wolf Pack in the quarterfinals.

Tolbert only scored two points against SDSU in their only match-up this season. He and Moore both had a team-leading seven rebounds that game. 

His biggest game of the year came against the Oakland Golden Grizzlies in a 80-67 victory at home. He had 25 points and seven rebounds. It was the only time he reached 20 points this season before Thursday night. During the regular season, he had eight double-digit point performances this season. In four of those eight, he recorded a double-double.

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A team that has one of the worst three-point percentages in the league ranked #226 according to Kenpoem metrics, will rely heavily within the arc for offensive production.

Against Nevada, seven of Tolbert’s eight made field goals came from two. The 6’ 8’’ forward will be a good test defensively for Nathan Mensah, Jaedon Ledee, and Aguek Arop. 

Tolbert has a team-leading 233 rebounds (72 offensive and 161 defensive). He will be the most reliable player to attack the glass for the Spartans against the Aztecs. SJSU is the best rebounding team (1,211 total and 37.8 per game) in the conference, and its opponents averaged the fewest rebounds per game  (30.3 per game) in the Mountain West.

Highlighting the team-leading point scorer, Moore, as the player to watch is reasonable, but since this game might be a battle in the paint, Tolbert is the player to watch.

Aguek Arop helped off the bench on Thursday. (Nicole Noel/EVT)

Key to Victory

The Aztecs’ key to victory is to force the Spartans to the outside and make them shoot perimeter jumpers.

SDSU dominated SJSU in their only match-up this season and only allowed four made three-pointers on 19 attempts, while the Spartans had 24 of their 51 points coming in the paint. Against Nevada, they were six-for-25 from beyond the arc. They did most of their damage in the paint (46 points). 

If the Aztecs need to foul from time to time when forwards Tolbert, Ibrahima Diallo, or Viahola are very aggressive going to the rim, that might serve them well. SJSU has the worst free throw percentage in the conference (67%). The one thing to keep in mind is that the Spartans were 83% from the charity stripe against SDSU in the Jan. 28 match-up.

The Red and Black will need to bring its #16 ranked three-point defense at the Spartans to force them to take most of their shots beyond the arc while defending well in the paint. If they don’t, SJSU will end up doing what they did to the Wolf Pack in upsetting fashion.

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