SDSU Mountain West NCAA
Malachi Flynn, left, and KJ Feagin double-team Air Force. The Falcons gave the Aztecs a scare, but San Diego State prevailed. Photo credit:

San Diego State overcame a sluggish first half Thursday in Las Vegas to take their quarterfinal in the Mountain West tournament, defeating Air Force 73-60.

SDSU will play No. 5 seed Boise State, which knocked off UNLV 67-61, in a 6 p.m. semi-final on Friday. UNLV handed the Aztecs their only loss of the season last month.

The top-seeded Aztecs trailed by four at the break against Air Force, and it took a 27-6 run when play resumed for them to battle their way back and avoid a huge upset.

The Falcons, a No. 9 seed, had a 12-19 record going into the game, while SDSU, ranked No. 5 in the nation, went 28-1 in the regular season.

Yet they allowed the Falcons, led by sophomore A.J. Walker, to shoot 60% on the way to dominating the first half.

Air Force cooled considerably after the break, however, shooting just over 27%.

Jordan Schakel led the SDSU offense in the second-half comeback, finishing the game with 17 points. Malachi Flynn, the Mountain West Conference  Player of the Year, added 16 points, as did Yanni Wetzell. Flynn also had seven rebounds and eight assists.

During a post-game interview Wetzell acknowledged to CBS Sports Network that the Aztecs need “to find our rhythm,” after again falling behind in the first half.

Coach Brian Dutcher, also told CBS that he was thankful for his team’s bye the first day of the tournament, because he thought fatigue became a factor for Air Force late. He credited the Falcons though for playing “a heck of a game.”

If San Diego State advances, the conference final is at 2:30 p.m. Saturday. The winner in Las Vegas secures an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament.

The Aztecs emerged during the season as a possible top seed in the tournament, and are likely to receive an at-large bid even if another Mountain West team prevails in the race for the conference title.

Selection Sunday for March Madness is set for March 15.

– Staff reports

Crown at championship game
The crowd in Las Vegas before the Aztecs’ quarterfinal game. Courtesy SDSU Athletics

Updated 7:25 p.m.