The Daily Aztec

Aztecs eliminated from NCAA tournament after 67-65 heartbreak against Houston

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Then-junior guard Jeremy Hemsley looks on during the Aztecs' 90-73 victory over Nevada on March 9 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.

Then-junior guard Jeremy Hemsley looks on during the Aztecs' 90-73 victory over Nevada on March 9 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.

Photo by Kelly Smiley

Photo by Kelly Smiley

Then-junior guard Jeremy Hemsley looks on during the Aztecs' 90-73 victory over Nevada on March 9 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.

by Abraham Jewett, Sports Editor

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Hayden Dalton. Chandler Hutchison. Rob Gray.

These are all names of players who have singlehandedly beaten San Diego State men’s basketball this season.

Hutchison scored a career-high 44 points for Boise State, during a close 83-80 victory over the Aztecs back in January.

In December, Dalton scored a career-high 36 points, as his Wyoming Cowboys dismissed SDSU 82-69 in Laramie.

Tonight, Gray had a career-high 39 points, including the game-winning layup with 1.1 seconds left to lift Houston (27-7) to a 67-65 victory and eliminate the Aztecs (22-11) from the NCAA tournament.

Gray was the only player to touch the ball on the Cougars last possession, and split the defense to score the game-winning bucket.

The Aztecs last chance came on a full-court inbound heave from freshman forward Matt Mitchell, which landed in the hands of Trey Kell, but the senior guard was off to the left on a wide open 26-foot three-point attempt as time expired.

Kell immediately buried his head underneath his jersey.

A game, a season, a career over.

Defeat snatched from the jaws of victory.

“It’s always bitterly disappointing when a season ends,” Aztecs head coach Brian Dutcher said from the post-game podium inside Intrust Bank Arena. “It’s March. We had a March-type shot to win the game and didn’t go in. We’re going home.”

After trailing by 10 at intermission, SDSU’s deficit grew to as many as 13 points under five minutes into the second half, before the team began to claw and scratch their way back in it.

“I’m so proud of my team, the effort they put forward today,” Dutcher said.  “To come from 13 down in the second half and fight all the way back in the game and have a shot to win it in the end, I couldn’t be more proud of a group than I am of this one.”

The Aztecs were able to pull within 53-48 with over eight minutes left, after the Cougars missed nine of 10 shots.

Then, down 62-56 with 2:50 left, junior guard Devin Watson (who was 0-7 from the field to that point) flipped a switch.

Watson sunk a jumper in the lane to bring his team to within 62-58, then tied the game at 62 after a three-point shot with 1:07 to play.

It was the first made three-pointer from the Aztecs in their last 11 attempts.

Gray answered with a dagger three-pointer of his own, but Watson threw a punch right back, sinking another three to tie the game at 65.

31 seconds remained, and Gray began to dribble down the clock.

Kell watched, waited for Gray to make his move, and then Gray took off, took flight, and took the Aztecs tournament dreams with him.

“Our goal was to make it to a Final Four, to win a national championship,” Dutcher said. “So was this team good enough? I guess we’ll never know. But it was awful good.”

GAME NOTES:

The loss ended a nine-game winning streak for the Aztecs, and sends the Cougars onto the Round of 32.

Kell finished with 12 points and eight rebounds, while senior forward Malik Pope had a double double with 11 points and 11 rebounds.

Pope – in his final game as an Aztec –  struggled from the free-throw line, converting only three-of-eight attempts, but came up big on the defensive end with three blocked shots.

The Aztecs finished only 21 of 35 from the free throw line – including five misses in a row at one point – while Houston went 18 of 24 from the charity stripe.

Redshirt freshman forward Jalen McDaniels played a big role in the comeback, finishing with 18 points and nine rebounds while knocking down nine of 12 free throw attempts.

Freshman forward Matt Mitchell finished with only three points – well below his season-average of 10.7 – after he was forced to sit major minutes after picking up his third foul with over four minutes to play in the first half.

SDSU committed only two turnovers in the second half, after committing 10 in the opening period.

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