SDSU, NCAA, Mountain West
Aguek Arop rose up for the dunk for the Aztecs’ biggest lead of the game, 45-36. Photo credit: Screen shot, truTV

San Diego State broke a streak of first-round losses at the NCAA Tournament Thursday, defeating College of Charleston 63-57 to move on to face Furman Saturday.

The Aztecs will play the upstart 13th seed, which knocked off No. 4 Virginia 68-67 Thursday, at 9:10 a.m. in a game to air on CBS, local KFMB.

SDSU (28-6), elite defenders who won both the Mountain West regular-season and tournament titles, and ranked No. 18 in the nation, entered the NCAA Tournament as a five-seed, taking on 12th-seeded Charleston, an offensive power, in Orlando. It was a physical game, and though the Aztecs led for most of the second half, they couldn’t shake Charleston off completely.

“It feels good to have this win, especially in a game like that, so tight and so close,” said Matt Bradley, one of the standouts down the stretch.

Charleston (31-4), out in front early, established leads of up to seven points, thanks to San Diego State turnovers. But the Aztecs began to grind their way back late in the half, and tied the game at 24 on a second-chance basket by Jaedon LeDee after a miss by Lamont Butler. 

LeDee, fouled moments later, made both free throws to put his team ahead 26-24. 

But after Micah Parrish fouled Reyne Smith as he attempted a three – Smith made all three free throws – Ryan Larson made a basket to snatch back the lead.

Yet Bradley drove to the basket for the SDSU advantage and LeDee closed the scoring for the half with a hook shot to go up 32-29, completing an Aztec 15-5 run ahead of the break.

When play resumed, Ante Brzovic brought Charleston within one, at 34-33, but Darrion Trammell answered with a three-pointer, sending San Diego State on its way to a nine-point lead.

But two threes, by Dalton Bolan and Raekwon Scott, gave Charleston some life, until Butler drove inside and kissed a shot off the glass to make it 49-42 nearing the 10-minute mark.

The Cougars would tie it up at 53, but the Aztecs turned to Bradley, who took it to the basket with just over two minutes to play for the two-point lead. SDSU didn’t trail again, as Parrish added a three and Bradley, two of three free throws with less than a minute left, to seal the deal.

“When the game got tight, I don’t think we got tight,” Bradley said. “We just wanted to win the game. That’s what we did.”

Head coach Brian Dutcher, who logged his first NCAA Tournament victory Thursday, credited Bradley and Parrish for their timely shots, but added that the team “hopefully (will) play better moving forward.”

“I thought we were nervous at the start, but settled in and played a very solid basketball game,” he said.

Ultimately, the Aztecs held the Cougars in check. Charleston, which had won 10 in a row, shot 32% for the game and though they are known for their prowess from long distance, they went just 5 of 24 from beyond the three-point line.

“They were a physical team. But we got a lot of physical dudes as well,” LeDee said, pointing to himself, Aguek Arop, Keshad Johnson and Nathan Mensah. “We knew eventually they would wear down.”

Bradley led all scorers with 17 points. LeDee, Johnson and Arop had eight each, and LeDee adding 10 rebounds.

In other MW action on Thursday, Utah State fell to Missouri, and Boise State to Northwestern, leaving San Diego State as the only remaining team from the conference alive for the remainder of March Madness.

Nevada already had fallen in a First Four loss to Arizona St., making the Aztec win the first in 12 recent tries for the MW at the NCAA Tournament.

SDSU’s recent first-round results at the Big Dance:

In 2020, the 30-2 team missed out on the tournament, canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Updated at 9:15 p.m. March 16, 2023