The #20 San Diego State Aztecs played their third match-up of the season against the Colorado State Rams in the quarterfinals Thursday afternoon. The Aztecs came into the game 5-2 in the Thomas & Mack Center versus the Rams and led the all-time series 50-43. As an AP Top 25 team on a neutral court, they were 1-0.
Defending CSU beyond the arc was the key coming into the match for SDSU. In the Red and Black’s overtime win over the Rams this season, they limited them to 37% beyond the arc. In their 77-58 win in Viejas Arena, Colorado State only shot 21% from the three-point line.
“We are a hard team to beat if you don’t make a lot of threes,” head coach Brian Dutcher said after the 77-58 win. “The first game we played them they had 11 threes, but they only had three tonight (on Feb. 21).”
Against the Rams, who are the second-best three-point shooting team in the Mountain West, it has made a huge difference how well the Aztecs, who are the second-best three-point defensive team in the conference, defended beyond the arc and it played a factor in the quarterfinal game.
The Rams shot 29% from the three-point line as the Aztecs advanced to the semifinals after edging CSU 64-61.
The Rams started off on fire with an 8-0 run, getting six of the eight points from John Tonje.
The Aztecs were guarding CSU close at the three-point line and forced them to go to the rim and get points in the paint, which they did.
Once Adam Seiko, Micah Parrish, and Jaedon Ledee subbed in, the tide turned.
Ledee and Parrish combined for seven points and helped close the score to 12-11.
CSU continued to stay a pace ahead of the Aztecs and took care of the ball well in the first 13:09, having zero turnovers, while SDSU had four.
After a timeout at the 7:51 mark, Matt Bradley tied the game at 20-20 with a three that erupted the Thomas & Mack Center. At the 3:25 mark, a Lamont Butler and one lay-up helped give the Aztecs their first lead of the game. After he made a free throw, SDSU took a 24-23.
Butler got another lay-up, then Tonje made a dunk in transition, and the Red and Black led 27-25 at halftime.
SDSU’s eight turnovers in the first half cost them, and CSU capitalized for seven points off those turnovers.
The Aztecs’ close-guarded defense at the three-point helped them tremendously, and they limited the Rams to 17% from beyond the arc. On the contrary, SDSU was not any better at the three-point line, shooting 18%.
CSU had to rely on taking the ball to the rim and got 18 of their 25 points in the paint.
The Red and Black won on the glass 24-13, mostly on the defensive glass.
At the 16:33 mark of the second, Patrick Cartier was fouled in the paint by Bradley and was sent to the line. He made both free throws and tied the game at 31-31.
Next CSU possession, Cartier went one-on-one with Nathan Mensah and won the battle, making a jumper to give the Rams a 33-31 lead.
After Parrish made two lay-ups to give the Aztecs a 41-39 lead at the 9:49 mark, the SDSU defense fended off the Rams on their ensuing possession. Then, the Aztecs took the ball up court, with the arena being the loudest it has been all game. On the possession, Bradley made a lay-up to give SDSU its biggest lead of the game, 43-39. The Aztecs fans inside the Thomas & Mack Center erupted even louder.
At the 7:25 mark, Isaiah Stevens, who had zero points in the first half, created his own momentum and was locked in. He scored seven-straight points to give the Rams a 48-45 lead.
On the Aztecs’ next possession, Butler pulled up to the three-point line, shot the ball, and it was nothing but net to tie the game at 48-48.
The game continued to go back and forth, and the nerves from both benches were heightened.
At the 1:42 Mark, Stevens bounced in a three-pointer. He celebrated the fortuitous ricochets and the 59-58 lead it gave the Rams.
With under a minute remaining, the Aztecs took the ball up court, and Butler put up a lay-up with defenders in his face and missed it.
Then, Stevens led his team up the court, and he put up a lay-up and missed. Mensah, with the rebound, passed off to Bradley, and the Rams fouled him. The Aztecs led 60-59.
Bradley and Mensah combined for four crucial made free throws on six attempts, and SDSU led 64-61 with under a second to go.
“I can hear myself stepping up to the line, reciting to myself, speaking to myself,” Bradley said postgame, talking about the crucial free throws. “That was a big moment.”
Last chance for the Rams was a half-court heave by Stevens.
Stevens held his head in disappointment as the Aztecs survived CSU with a 64-61 win.
Despite the loss, Stevens had a fantastic second half, scoring 16 points and going five-for-20 from the field. Tonje led with 17 points, Cartier and Lake combined for 22 points, and all three combined to go 14-for-37 from the field.
“Stevens and Tonje are really hard to guard,” Dutcher said postgame. “This was a hard-fought win. I thought we made enough important plays to give ourselves a victory today.”
Butler led with 16 points, Bradley and Ledee combined for 23 points, and all three combined to go 12-for-27 from the field.
The depth of the Aztecs was on full display in this game, as they got 23 points from their bench.
Both teams struggled from beyond the arc. SDSU went 26% from the three-point line, while CSU was 29%.
The Red and Black outrebounded the Rams by 10 but split 30-30 in points in the paint.
The Aztecs advance to the semifinals to take on the winner of the San Jose State versus Nevada game tomorrow at 6:30 P.M.
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.