SDSU’s Strong 2nd Half Propels Them to OT Victory

Credit: ESPN

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Credit: ESPN

20 minutes into Wednesday’s Mountain West Tournament opener, San Diego State University’s season was on the brink, and for all intents and purposes, over.

SDSU was outscored 32-14 in the first half, shot 14.8% from the field (4-27), and committed eleven turnovers. It was the kind of half that seemed to go along with their season; offensive struggles leading to a little bit of a letdown on the defensive end.

Head coach Steve Fisher said of the first half: “We were awful…. didn’t guard, didn’t play. At halftime, in the locker room, we talked about pride… pride in the program. And that meant we had to compete.”

Compete, they did. UNLV’s Jovan Mooring was able to push UNLV’s lead to 21 (37-16) with a 3-pointer with 18:25 to play in regulation. After that bucket, it was all Aztecs. SDSU outscored the Running Rebels 34-13 the rest of the way to force overtime.. This rally was highlighted by a 25-3 spurt, concluded by a Matt Shrigley 3-point basket with 8:57 remaining, giving SDSU their first lead of the night at 41-40.

With a bit of fortune and bad free throw shooting from UNLV (2-6 in the last five minutes), the Aztecs were able to keep UNLV close the rest of regulation to force overtime. Malik Pope missed a 20-footer at the buzzer that would have given SDSU the win in regulation.

The momentum of the second half spilled into overtime for the Aztecs, who played their best five minutes at the perfect time. Highlighted by Trey Kell, who scored 7 of his 13 points in the extra period, the Aztecs outscored UNLV 12-2 in OT. The Aztecs set the record for the largest comeback win in Mountain West Tournament history in the process.

For the Aztecs, this was the first of many steps in order to win the Mountain West tournament. In order to advance to the NCAA Tournament via an automatic bid, they must win their next three games in the next three days, a heavy (but not impossible) task.

The Good:

  • Malik Pope

Pope played a really nice game when SDSU needed it. Although he was only 5-14 from the field for 13 points, Pope impacted the game with his length, hauling in thirteen rebounds and recording two blocks as well. He had a game-leading four offensive rebounds and contributed two assists. SDSU needs Pope to continue this play (and shoot a tad better) to have a puncher’s shot these next few days.

  • Trey Kell

The Aztecs play their best when Trey Kell is playing well. He had an awful first half, but that could be said for pretty much each Aztec tonight. His second half and overtime were much better. Kell ended up with 13 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, and a block. The St. Augustine product also shot 2-3 from three and 5-6 from the free throw line.

  • Dakari Allen’s Defense

Steve Fisher had high praise for Dakari Allen after the game, calling him SDSU’s “most reliable player.” Although he did not contribute offensively, Allen shut down UNLV’s Jovan Mooring in the second half. Allen held Mooring, who poured in 15 points in the first half, to only three in the second. His defense was vital in the win.

The Bad:

  • The Shooting

It’s a common knock on SDSU, their shooting. SDSU only shot 33% from the field, and obviously, that number needs to improve if they want to win & advance. They did only shoot 14% in the first half and ended up in the thirties, so the number improved in the second half and OT. But yeah, got to shoot better.

  • The Opponent

This was a nice win for the Aztecs, but in reality, they should have never trailed as much as they did. Entering the game, UNLV was 11-20; having lost 10 of their last 11…. they were pretty much the worst team in the Mountain West Conference this year. A much more conventional route to an eventual MW Tourney win would have been rolling these guys… but when does SDSU ever make things easy? They don’t.

  • The Injury to D’Erryl Williams

Williams played a really nice game on Wednesday, but left late with what looked like a head or neck injury. Coming off the bench, the senior from Sacramento scored a season-high eight points in 20 minutes of play. He also chipped in two rebounds and three assists. He was the MVP of the game, and got “MVP” chants as he was helped off the floor. Hopefully, the injury is minor and he will be able to return against Boise State.

The Ugly:

  • The First Half

SDSU played their worst half of the season on Wednesday. It was terrible:

SDSU was lucky that they were playing UNLV, because if they played anyone else, they would be packing their bags to head back to campus tonight. Hopefully, they got that half out of their system & will not have one like that for the rest of the tournament.

As Steve Fisher said postgame: “If we get behind tomorrow (against Boise), we are going to have a tougher time coming back.”

What’s on Tap:

Next up for SDSU is a matchup with Boise State on Thursday, March 9. SDSU lost to Boise State in their only matchup this season, 78-66, in Boise. It’s win or go home once again for SDSU as they once again seek to keep their season alive.

Tipoff is at 8:30 PM PT in Las Vegas. It will be televised on CBS Sports Network, and Ted Leitner will have the call on the Mighty 1090.

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