Lobos’ hot start ends Aztecs’ run to title

by Antonio Morales

Junior guard Chase Tapley scored 25 points on Saturday. | Antonio Zaragoza, Photo Editor
Junior guard Chase Tapley scored 25 points on Saturday. | Antonio Zaragoza, Photo Editor

LAS VEGAS — Having won eight straight games in the Mountain West Conference Tournament spanning the last three seasons, Saturday was an unfamiliar feeling for the San Diego State men’s basketball team.

New Mexico defeated SDSU 68-59 to claim the MW Tournament title. It was the Aztecs’ first loss in the tournament since the 2009 championship game.

The Lobos led from wire-to-wire. The game was essentially a 40-minute coronation for New Mexico, which beat the Aztecs for the second time this season.

“Our congratulations to New Mexico,” SDSU head coach Steve Fisher said after the game. “We know what it feels like to be where they are right now: still on that court celebrating. That’s where we expected to be, which is why it hurts when you’re not. And yet the reality of it is we’re not and they are.”

The loss drops SDSU’s record to 26-7 this season.

Behind the eight ball

The first half of the championship game played out more like an ambush. The Aztecs were down 5-0 early, then 18-6, 29-15 and eventually were only down by 11 points at the break.

The opening half set the tone for the game; the Lobos punched SDSU in the mouth and the Aztecs never seemed to recover.

New Mexico’s Tony Snell was the one who led the onslaught as he played lights out to start the game. Snell scored 14 points and made five of his six shots.

The performance didn’t come as a surprise to Fisher, who tried to get Snell to come to SDSU.

“We recruited Tony Snell. I thought we had Tony Snell. He played with Kawhi Leonard,” Fisher said. “I knew how good he was. He’s good. Everybody’s goal is you got to smother him and don’t let him get an open look. Sometimes he makes baskets when he’s smothered. He set the tenor for them with those early hard shots. He was very good.”

The Aztecs’ bad start on offense didn’t help either. SDSU went 9-for-23 shooting in the first half and only 1-for-6 from 3-point range, which led to its 23 first-half points.

Offensive struggles

The poor shooting on offense didn’t stop in the first half. Apart from a short stretch of hot shooting from junior guard Chase Tapley in the second half, the Aztecs were cold the whole game.

Three games in three days seemed to take a toll on the team’s legs. SDSU shot 37.1 percent from the floor. Junior guard James Rahon finished the game with no made shots and sophomore point guard Xavier Thames went 1-for-6.

It’s not like the Aztecs were missing open shots, though. New Mexico was playing stifling defense just like it did the rest of the tournament.

News and notes

Tapley led the Aztecs with 25 points; helping to bring SDSU to within five in the final minutes, but it was not enough.

Sophomore guard Jamaal Franklin scored 16 points and grabbed 10 rebounds; it was his 12th double-double of the season.

SDSU now falls to 2-2 in its last four MW Tournament championship games. It was only the second loss in the last 11 games for the Aztecs at the Thomas & Mack Center.