San Diego State hung on for a wild 71-65 win over Utah State in it’s opening game of the Mountain West Conference tournament.
It wasn’t pretty.
But the Aztecs NCAA tournament aspirations are still alive.
San Diego State was trailing 61-59 before Malik Pope hit a crucial jumper to tie the game with 1:32 remaining.
It was a long, gut wrenching final 92 seconds after, but the Aztecs never looked back and were able to hang on for the win.
Just three games after free throws plagued the Aztecs in the closing minutes against Boise State, San Diego State made eight of 10 in the final 10 seconds to pull away against the Aggies. Yes, the final 10 seconds.
Twice in that 10-second span, Utah State got within one point. But, with so little time remaining, the Aggies were forced to foul and the Aztecs delivered at the free throw line.
Trey Kell, who was fighting flu-like symptoms, led the Aztecs with 17 points (6-14 FG, 3-7 3-pt) and had five rebounds. Winston Shepard sprained his ankle in the first half but later returned and finished with 12 points (4-8 FG), and led the team with eight rebounds and three assists.
Malik Pope started again for the injured Jeremy Hemsley, and continued his upward trend, scoring 15 points (6-11 FG, 3-5 3-pt) to go with seven rebounds.
San Diego State struggled to get going in the first half, shooting just 3-15 from the field to start. The Aztecs trailed most of the first half before rallying down the stretch. Utah State was up by eight points with six minutes remaining before San Diego State went on a 13-4 run to end the first period.
Utah State shot 50 percent in the first half but the Aztecs defense turned it around in the second, limiting the Aggies to just 33 percent (8-24).
The Aztecs advance to the semifinals and will play the winner of Nevada/New Mexico Friday night at 6 p.m.
–Andrew Burer (TWITTER:@andrewburer)