Men’s basketball lose in heartbreaking fashion to Boise State as final shot comes up just short

The+Aztecs+huddle+up+during+their+58-57+loss+to+Boise+State+in+the+Mountain+West+Tournament+finals.

Noelani Sapla

The Aztecs huddle up during their 58-57 loss to Boise State in the Mountain West Tournament finals.

by Jason Freund and Marco Perez

“We’re gonna let it hurt. But we’re not gonna have a hangover about it… we’re gonna need some positive vibes. We don’t wanna feel like this ever again.”

This was the perspective that senior Aguek Arop took after San Diego State’s (23-8, 13-4 Mountain West Conference) demoralizing 53-52 loss to Boise State (27-7, 15-3 MWC) in the Mountain West Tournament.

It was the third time SDSU has faced BSU this season. In the first matchup, the Aztecs scored just 37 points after a two-week COVID pause forced them out of action. In the second, the Aztecs fell by just a single point as fifth-year Abu Kigab hit a walk-off free throw.

This time, it was the Aztecs who had an opportunity to walk off as winners. With eight seconds remaining in the game, senior Matt Bradley — who was surrounded by Broncos — missed a layup inside the paint.

But hope was renewed for the Aztecs as senior Nathan Mensah somehow snagged the offensive rebound and kicked the ball out for a shot.

Ultimately, it was senior Trey Pulliam who made the last-second shot with his signature floating jump shot… and watched it bounce off the rim and onto the floor.

Game. Set. Match.

Pulliam collapsed onto his back, his hands on his forehead. Arop, a senior in his final season, covered his face and screamed into his jersey.

“It was a heck of a game. Obviously, we were vastly disappointed we didn’t win,” head coach Brian Dutcher said after the game. “To get back to the hotel past midnight last night. Come here and play at three o’clock. Play as hard as we can for 40 minutes, gave ourselves two shots to win the game. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to convert those.

It seemed like a reversal of the past two games, but also followed a similar structure

Bradley led all scorers with 17 points to go along with seven rebounds and two assists after producing 12 points in the previous two games. The Aztecs as a team shot 35.1 percent from the field and 50 percent from behind the arc. 

Mensah only had four points but played a big role for the Aztecs on the defensive end. He had four blocks to go along with 10 rebounds, an assist and a steal.

Senior Lamont Butler had a near-perfect game shooting and contributed with 16 points. He finished 5 of 6 from the field and 3 for 3 from deep. He also took advantage of his trips to the free throw line, going a perfect 3 for 3. 

But still, the Aztecs found themselves trailing by three going into halftime, having gone scoreless in the last five minutes of the first half.

Butler broke the drought with a hard-fought layup and tied the game at 28 apiece with the ensuing free throw.

Neither team was able to hold onto a lead as both sides played a metaphorical hot potato with said lead.

One team held a lead, then the other team would. The score would tie back up, then change hands again. Overall, there were 13 lead changes and 12 instances where the game was tied.

Another big number for the Aztecs: 23.

That’s how many personal fouls were whistled against SDSU, giving BSU a whopping 21 free throw attempts, making 12.

SDSU only got 11. They made six. 

However, this isn’t the final stop for the Scarlet and Black.

Both teams should be locks for the NCAA tournament and await to find out their seed and first venue during Sunday’s selection show. 

SDSU is projected to be either an eight or a nine seed. Games will be played at Viejas Arena, but NCAA law mandates that no team play at their home venue during the big dance, SDSU will have to hit the road again. 

“I told the team after the game that the reason we play the season, the reason we try to win the Mountain West is to go to the NCAA Tournament,” coach Brian Dutcher said. “That is the crown jewel. … So we’re disappointed we didn’t get a title. But our program plays to play in the NCAA Tournament. We have an opportunity to do that. And we will be ready to play no matter who we get in the first round.”