San Diego State rallied back from a 15-point deficit late in the first half to lead by eight points with 2:50 left to go in regulation only to collapse in the final minutes.
It was Senior Night at Viejas Arena and the Aztecs were supposed to send their graduating seniors off with a win. It was the first time San Diego State lost on Senior Night since Feb. 28, 2005. Before Wednesday, SDSU has won 13 straight Senior Night games, the fourth-longest active streak in the country.
SDSU was still leading by six points (72-66) inside the one-minute marker when Deshon Taylor made a 3-pointer with 62 seconds to go. The Aztecs then committed three-straight turnovers that were converted into six points to give the Bulldogs a 75-72 lead with 21 seconds left.
The Aztecs still had a chance to win when Jalen McDaniels was fouled with 10 seconds left attempting a 3-pointer. He made two of his three free throws. Fresno State rebounded and Taylor made a free throw. McDaniels then rebounded the ball to Devin Watson, who missed a desperate 3 at the buzzer.
“We were bitterly disappointed in the outcome of a very good college basketball game,” Aztec coach Brian Dutcher said. “Looking back, I didn’t find a way to get a timeout call to stop some of that momentum.”
Under NCCA rules, coaches can only call a timeout when the ball is dead. Once the ball is in play, only players can call a timeout. None of them did, even though SDSU has three timeouts left.
“That’s on the players. We just got to be better. We let them speed us up a bit,” Aztec senior guard Jeremy Hemsley said. “Having two senior guards on the court, we got to know that we have a timeout, so if anything, I’m mad at myself for not at least calling the timeout and recognizing that.”
With the loss, SDSU clinches the No. 4 seed in the Mountain West Tournament, regardless of what happens Saturday against Nevada, which has more to lose. The Wolfpack is currently half a game behind Utah State and can clinch the No. 1 seed in the tournament with a win. The Aztecs, however, have nothing to lose and could play spoiler.
The game that Dutcher is more concerned about, however, is the quarterfinals against UNLV, which has already clinched the fifth seed. The Aztecs will be playing the Rebels on their home court on March 14.
“We’ve played UNLV in the tournament on their home floor and it’s never easy,” Dutcher said. “I think the last time we played them there, we got down in the conference tournament 20 or 30 points early in the game and had to fight all the way back to win it. So, we know what’s in store. We know it’s going to be difficult but if we’re playing well and we’re playing together, we have a chance to beat anybody.”