No. 1 seed Aztecs survive battle against No. 8 Wyoming in quarterfinals of MWC tournament

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Brenden Tuccinardi

San Diego State men’s basketball senior guard Terrell Gomez dribbles the ball during the Aztecs’ 69-66 win over Wyoming in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West Conference tournament at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.

by Kyle Betz and Luis Lopez

LAS VEGAS— When San Diego State men’s basketball took on Wyoming earlier this season on Jan. 28, the Aztecs scored a Mountain West Conference record 63 first-half points en route to an 87-57 victory.

It seemed like the Scarlet and Black faced a completely different Wyoming team Thursday afternoon in the MWC tournament quarterfinals at the Thomas & Mack Center, as the Aztecs were only able to put up 33 first-half points despite shooting 54.2%.

However, a 13-point second-half performance from senior guard Terrell Gomez and late-game free-throws from senior forward Matt Mitchell helped the No. 1 seed Aztecs (21-4, 15-2 MWC) defeat the No. 8 seed Cowboys (14-11, 7-9 MWC) 69-66.

The win marks the Aztecs’ 14th straight victory in the conference tournament quarterfinals and extends the team’s winning streak to 12 — the fourth-longest active streak in Division I.

The Cowboys, who scored a MWC tournament record 111 points in regulation on Wednesday in a 111-80 win over No. 9 seed San José State in the first round of the tournament came to play.

While going from 111 to 66 points may seem like a downgrade in performance, Wyoming was never out of the game. 

The Cowboys brought the Aztecs’ typically speedy offense to a halt, and it caught SDSU head coach Brian Dutcher off-guard.

“I mean, we were shocked by it — at least I was,” Dutcher said. “A team that scored 111 points the game before, that raced up and down the court all year against anybody they played, thought their best chance to win was to slow it down.”

The last time the Scarlet and Black trailed during the second half in a game was a 64-59 loss to Utah State on Jan. 16.

Here are three observations from SDSU’s quarterfinal victory.

1. Gomez scores season-high, Mitchell comes in clutch

Gomez was an offensive spark for the Aztecs when MWC Player of the Year Mitchell wasn’t.

The Los Angeles native scored 20 points — the most during his SDSU career. In addition, he tallied a rebound, assist and put in defensive work with two steals.

Typically a threat from beyond the arc, Gomez showed off his mid-range and drove through the lane on numerous occasions — also notching a perfect 3-for-3 from the free-throw line.

San Diego State men’s basketball senior guard Terrell Gomez fires a shot during the Aztecs’ 69-66 win over Wyoming in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West Conference tournament at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.

 

Gomez said games like these are why he transferred from Cal State Northridge to SDSU.

“Throughout my career, I’ve had success scoring the ball I came here also just to win and produce,” Gomez said. “I really, really want to win, first and foremost and just win with my brothers.”

Mitchell, who entered the game leading the Aztecs with 15.4 points per game, was held to just 8 points against the Cowboys, including only 2 from the field.

What Mitchell lacked offensively, however, he made up for at the free-throw line.

The 6-foot-6 senior cashed in, shooting 4-for-4 with less than 7 seconds left in the game.

Despite Mitchell’s lack of normal production, Dutcher said his experience helped keep him mellow and find success at the charity stripe.

“Because (Mitchell) wasn’t scoring, he didn’t get frustrated and start taking bad shots,” Dutcher said. “Matt makes every free throw he gets. He’s got ice water in his veins and he knows how to close games out.”

2. Wyoming successful from deep

Wyoming freshman guard Xavier DuSell lit up the Thomas & Mack Center early on, scoring four 3-pointers during the first half. 

As a team, the Cowboys shot 48% from beyond the 3-point line.

DuSell kept it rolling during the second half, adding three more to score a game-high 21 points.

“With four shooters, or at times, five on the floor it’s really hard to guard a team like that especially when they’re hitting shots,” Schakel said of Wyoming. “Especially when they have a guy like DuSell who was hot, extremely hot today.”

But senior guard Jordan Schakel picked up the slack for his own team.

He opened the second frame with a 3-point shot and added another with just under 5 minutes left to give SDSU a 60-58 lead.

Despite only shooting with a 27.3% clip from deep during the first frame, the Aztecs ended with a 35% 3-point field-goal total.

3. Bench points still a factor

Had it not been for the Cowboys’ bench only contributing two points on the day, the Aztecs bench almost cost them the game. 

San Diego State men’s basketball freshman guard Lamont Butler (left) defends Wyoming freshman guard Marcus Williams during the Aztecs’ 69-66 win over the Cowboys in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West Conference tournament at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. (Brenden Tuccinardi)

Only two bench players contributed offensively, freshman guard Lamont Butler (eight points), and sophomore forward Keshad Johnson (two points). 

In SDSU’s regular-season matchups against Wyoming, bench production was a big reason why those games were blowout wins. 

The bench contributed 38 points in game one and bested themselves with a 50 point night in game two.

On Thursday however, their absence allowed the Cowboys to keep things at one possession for the entirety of the game. 

Competition is only going to get better with each day in the tournament.

For SDSU to go further in this tournament, it needs production from the second unit. If not, that may cost it going forward.

Dutcher credited Wyoming after the game but reiterated that timely plays were what helped them get the win. 

“Wyoming had a great game plan — they played extremely hard and they pushed it to the very end,” Dutcher said. “But to the credit of our team, we make timely plays when timely plays are required.”

Up next…

SDSU returns to the Thomas & Mack Center Friday to play No. 5 seed Nevada. The game will be broadcasted on CBS Sports Network and will begin at 6:30 p.m.

For the latest updates from the Mountain West Conference tournament in Las Vegas follow The Daily Aztec sports section on Twitter and Instagram.

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