Aggies blow 17-point first-half lead, fall in MW Tourney semifinal to SDSU – Cache Valley Daily

San Diego State forward Jaedon LeDee, center rear, embraces Utah State forward Great Osobor (1) after an NCAA college basketball game in the semifinals of the Mountain West Conference men’s tournament Friday, March 15, 2024, in Las Vegas. San Diego State won 86-70. (AP Photo/Ronda Churchill)

LAS VEGAS — March is where anything can happen in any game. Utah State found that out the hard way as it seemed to have everything under control in its semifinal matchup with San Diego State, only to have a significant lead crumble and end with a 86-70 loss to the Aztecs.

With 7:25 left in the first half, everything was coming up Aggies. They’d gone on a 20-2 run and were doubling-up San Diego State 34-17, the Aztecs having shot just 32 percent so far in the game.

Everyone for the Aggies was getting involved. Great Osobor had 11 points, Ian Martinez had eight, Mason Falslev — who out-toughed his shoulder injury to play tonight — had scored six. Even Kalifa Sakho got himself involved with four points.

But, 7:25 later and Utah State’s lead had been slashed down to a mere three, the score sitting at 39-36 at the break.

Less than two minutes into the second half, the lead had entirely vanished as San Diego State tied the game for the first time since 17:51 in the first half.

A minute later, the Aztecs took their first lead in nearly 16 minutes of game time and went on to carry the day and close the door on USU’s hopes to claim both the regular season and conference tournament titles in the Mountain West.

“It was a competitive game, “USU head coach Danny Sprinkle said. “I want to give San Diego State credit. They were the tougher team, the more physical team. They kind of brought the fight, and we didn’t respond at times.”

That final 7:25 of the half was easily the most important momentum shift of the game. The Aggies scored just five points, making just one field goal after a 63 percent start shooting-wise.

San Diego State, meanwhile, got itself going in that span, closing the half by making 6 of 9 and including the second half, shot 55 percent the rest of the way (the Aggies shot just 32 percent in the second half).

Unusually, both teams sat their star players during some of the crucial minutes of this rally. Jaedon LeDee and Great Osobor both picked up two fouls relatively early. Osobor’s foul was a rather questionable decision where he fouled in transition trying to go for a cheeky steal. He left the game with six to play in the half and did not return until after the break. While he was out, the Aggies were outscored 17-5.

SDSU head coach Brian Dutcher pointed out Osobor’s foul saying his team “caught a break.”

“They were having a good rhythm,” Dutcher said. “And with him out of the game, they had to change how they were playing a little bit.”

Dutcher even tried to take advantage of Osobor’s absence by putting LeDee back in the game briefly, but Sprinkle didn’t want to budge on his strategy of keeping Osobor out until the start of the second.

“We knew if Great was in there, they’d just keep throwing it in to LeDee. Both of those two are two of the best players in the country at drawing fouls,” Sprinkle said. “With the lead that we had at the time, we didn’t want to risk getting Great his third foul. I would rather try to go in up 10 or 11, but then it just got out of hand there.”

“As a veteran leader on this team I need to be better to know that I can’t pick that second foul up,” Osobor said. “I think it took me a little too long to get back into rhythm after that.”

Falslev also sat much of the rest of the first half, removing two key first-half scorers from the game for an extended stretch. Though Falslev’s extended time on the bench had a lot more to do with re-aggravating his shoulder injury.

The momentum SDSU built with its final seven minutes of the half carried well into the second. Not only did they re-take the lead before the first media timeout, the Aztecs gave the Aggies a taste of their own medicine, building a 13-point lead with eight to play and using that cushion to put the pressure on USU and hold the advantage the rest of the way.

Similarly to the game played between these two sides in San Diego, good 3-point shooting from the Aztecs was a crucial difference in the game. SDSU made nine in that Feb. 3 matchup in Viejas Arena. On Friday, the Aztecs made eight with seven of those being made after that 7:25 mark in the first half.

Lamont Butler did much of the damage from deep, going 3 of 5, but was joined by Darrion Trammell, who hit a pair of triples. Even LeDee got in on the action from downtown hitting one in the second half, though he also hit several contested mid-range jumpers to bolster his eventual game-high 22 points.

LeDee’s 22 outdueled Osobor who had just 19 points. In the second half the advantage was further exaggerated as LeDee had 17 in the second to Osobor’s eight.

Micah Parrish and Reese Waters were two other key supplemental scorers. The two had shot just 24 percent combined the last three games, but Parrish scored 15 and Waters added 11 to give SDSU an even bigger offensive boost.

“I was concerned before the game with Micah Parrish and Reese Waters,” Sprinkle said, “because they’re really, really good scorers. And they were due to break out at some point. They’re too talented of scores to to play how they’ve been playing. And I thought both of those guys were terrific today.”

Utah State didn’t lie down in the face of that double-digit deficit any more than San Diego State did for its, but the full rally just wasn’t there. Potentially massive shots, like a Josh Uduje three that would have cut the lead to 69-64, or a mid-range jumper from Javon Jackson that could have cut it to 75-70, just wouldn’t fall.

The closest the game would be after SDSU’s 13-point lead was seven.

With the loss, the Aggies’ conference season comes to a complete end. They’ll await their essentially-assured selection to the NCAA Tournament on Sunday along with the location and next opponent.

“We have a lot of work to do,” Sprinkle said. “Thank God that we still have one more game. A lot of teams don’t have another game. We have a chance to bounce back from some of the things that I’ve kind of mentioned that we need to work on. We’re very fortunate that we have another game to hopefully correct that.”

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