NCAA Mountain West SDSU
San Diego State looked strong in the first half, but Utah State tested them down the stretch. Photo credit: @Aztec_MBB, via Twitter

San Diego State let an early 16-point lead slip away against Utah State as the Aggies prevailed 59-56 in the Mountain West tournament title game Saturday in Las Vegas.

Nevertheless, the Aztecs had a look in the last 2.6 seconds to try and force the championship into overtime.

Utah State guard Sam Merrill had downed a three-pointer, despite KJ Feagin birddogging him as the clock wound down.

After the teams traded timeouts, the Aztecs got the ball where they wanted it, in the hands of Mountain West Player of the Year Malachi Flynn, and his mid-court shot was on target. But it skipped twice around the rim, and bounced out, giving Utah State the win, and SDSU its second loss on the season.

Merrill credited Feagin for his defense when he talked to CBS Sports after the win.

“Feagin guarded me good enough that I had to go a little step back and it went in,” he said.

Aggie coach Craig Smith said simply, “We never flinched.”

SDSU, the conference tourney’s top seed, carried a 30-1 record into the game against No. 2 seed Utah State.

The 26-8 Aggies earned a slot in the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year as the Mountain West’s automatic bid.

San Diego State though, ranked No. 5 in the nation, remains in contention for a No. 1 seed in the tournament on the strength of its record. They went undefeated through their first 26 games, until a loss to UNLV on Feb. 22.

It’s been rougher going ever since, as they have fallen behind in the first half and embarked on one comeback after another. They flipped the script Saturday though, racing out to a 27-11 lead behind a 25-4 run.

Utah State though closed the half with a quick 10 points, including a Diogo Brito three at the buzzer to cut the Aztec advantage to eight.

The Aggies crept up on San Diego State as a Merrill three-pointer put them up 44-42 with nine minutes to play in the second.

Flynn answered with a three of his own, and Yanni Wetzell followed with a layup for a 47-44 Aztec lead.

Utah State went ahead again at the seven-minute mark on a pair of free throws from Alphonso Anderson. They held onto the lead until Flynn hit a jumper with 1:08 left to give SDSU a one-point advantage.

Merrill tied the game at 56 by making the second of two free throws before his game-winner.

He led all scorers with 27, and was named the MVP for the tournament.

Flynn, who joined Feagin on the all-tournament team, logged 16. Wetzell finished with a double-double, scoring 12 and snagging 13 rebounds.

– Staff reports

Updated 5:55 p.m.

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