SDSU basketball gets blowout win over UNLV, 92-56, on emotional senior night

by Ryan Posner, Sports Editor

It’s the sendoff they worked for, it’s the sendoff players of their stature are worthy of.

In the last regular-season game at Viejas Arena for senior forwards Winston Shepard and Skylar Spencer, San Diego State men’s basketball was in complete control in a 92-65 win against UNLV.

The night started with the two, along with senior center Angelo Chol, being honored in a senior-night ceremony.

The night ended with the players being presented the Mountain West regular-season championship trophy in front of their home crowd, and one of the more familiar exercises for the team, cutting down the nets.

“It was great. I had a great four years here,” Spencer said. “I have great memories here and we ended it how I imagined we would. It was really good.”

Now the goal becomes cutting down the nets in Las Vegas a week from now at the MW tournament.

The question is, though, will the team need to win the tournament to make the NCAA Tournament?

“Others will decide who is in the tournament and if you don’t win your conference tournament then you have to get an at-large bid, and that’s everyone,” head coach Steve Fisher said. “We’re hoping that we’re building a resume that someone can look at us and say that we’re a good team because we are a good team.”

It was a pretty fitting regular-season conclusion for two players who will end in the top 10 in the program in all-time wins and were already the MW’s winningest players.

With two more wins, Spencer will become the schools all-time leader in victories, passing D.J. Gay at 105.

Fisher knew the night would be emotional, and his only concern was that the team would be too emotional in the early parts of the game.

“We talked about it. I was a little bit concerned that we would be thinking too much about family and parents and where they were sitting and not have the edge about us that we’ve had when we play a game like Vegas. We had it,” Fisher said.  “I think it was led by our seniors who were determined that we would finish in a fashion that we would all remember positively.”

Indeed it was emotional, with the Viejas Arena faithful saying its goodbyes to two of the most recognizable players of the Fisher era.

The Aztecs answered the concern with flying colors, getting out to a 42-27 lead at half, their largest halftime margin over a MW team this season.

Naturally, Shepard was a key cog in making that happen.

He led the team with 11 points at the halfway point, shooting 4 for 5 from the field, and tied for the team-lead with 18 points.

Sophomore guard Trey Kell also had 18 points.

The Rebels, who had just one player on scholarship coming off the bench, subbed only a handful of times and the Aztecs capitalized on that, outscoring UNLV 34-3 from the bench.

UNLV’s depth was put to an extreme test with junior forward Ben Carter already out with an ACL tear and freshman forward Derick Jones Jr. getting suspended earlier in the week after his ACT score was cancelled.

“Our focus was play our game, run them up and down and we were aware all of their players aren’t there and they’re playing heavy minutes,” Spencer said.

The blowout win marked the second time this season that the Aztecs took down their rival by a wide margin. SDSU won 67-52 on Jan. 30 in Las Vegas.

Junior forward Dakari Allen was also crucial in the team jumping out to its early lead. He scored all 10 of his points in a span a little over three minutes, including two straight 3-pointers.

As the Aztecs closed the chapter on their regular season, the team rid itself Saturday of one of its biggest struggles throughout the season: finishing games.

With the nail resting above the coffin at the end of the first half, the Aztecs hammered it in in the second half, outscoring the Rebels 50-29 in the latter period.

Because of that, Spencer and Shepard got to coast off into the sunset as victors, as both received monstrous ovations as the public address announcer called their names out for the last time when both subbed out for good with a little over three minutes left in the game.

“I think the way the year started off coming into conference, I know people thought we wouldn’t win (the conference),” Shepard said.  “That makes it a lot sweeter and at the same time that puts a lot of pressure on next year’s team.”

Now, the focus turns to the home of UNLV as the No. 1 seed Aztecs gear up for their first contest in the MW tournament on Thursday against either Utah State or University of Wyoming.

That game will take place at 12 p.m. Thursday at the Thomas and Mack Center.

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