San Diego State, victims of a late Nevada push Saturday, nonetheless found a way to win their final regular-season game, 79-78, thanks to last-second defensive stands by Nathan Mensah and Keshad Johnson.
Days ahead of the Mountain West championship – and at the tail end of a grueling month-long schedule of make-up games – the Aztecs (21-7, 13-4 MW) let an 18-point lead slip away largely due to giving up the ball.
They turned it over a season-high 19 times, and Nevada gratefully accepted the gifts, scoring 21 points off the gaffes. But the final turnover, by Matt Bradley with eight seconds to play, somehow didn’t hurt, despite a furious Wolf Pack (12-17, 6-12 MW) surge.
First, Mensah blocked a Grant Sherfield jumper with 1.8 seconds left, then Johnson, with less than a second on the clock, stopped a Sherfield three-point attempt. Nevada had a fraction of a second to attempt a tip-in as time expired, but failed.
Still, the late press stunned SDSU, Trey Pulliam admitted to XTRA 1360. The guard called the game a “rough one.”
“I think they just surprised us at the end,” he said. “They hit us with something we weren’t prepared for.”
The Aztecs knew going into Saturday’s game they would be seeded third in the conference tournament behind MW regular-season champ Boise State and Colorado State, but the game mattered nonetheless as far as their prospects for the NCAA Tournament.
But the Wolf Pack gave them no quarter, building a five-point lead with 6:50 to play in the opening half. SDSU scrambled back to go ahead 23-22 on a Pulliam layup.
The game was tied eight times in the period, finally at 32-all thanks to a Sherfield three-pointer with a minute play. But Lamont Butler followed with two layups as time wound down, giving the Aztecs a 36-33 lead at the break.
San Diego State returned to the court hot, as their lead grew to 44-35, during a stretch that included two buckets by Pulliam. After a Nevada timeout, SDSU continued to pad the advantage, on a Mensah dunk and a Matt Bradley three.
The lead ballooned to as much as 18, but as the Aztec turnovers began to pile up, the Wolf Pack began their climb back.
Nevada had relied heavily on Sherfield throughout the game, but in the final eight minutes Warren Washington and Desmond Cambridge stepped up. Cambridge shot the three-pointer from the corner that pulled the Wolf Pack to within one with 15 seconds to play. But they would not score again.
Sherfield led Nevada with 30 points, while Bradley had 24 for San Diego State.
The Mountain West tournament begins Wednesday in Las Vegas, but the Aztecs have a bye in the first round. Their quarterfinal game takes place late Thursday, and their opponent will be the winner of Wednesday’s Fresno-State-San Jose State contest.