Aztecs fumble away game on senior night in 76-74 loss to Fresno State


Raymond Gorospe

Senior guard Devin Watson drives to the hoop during the Aztecs 76-74 loss to Fresno State on March 6 at Viejas Arena.

by Abraham Jewett, Sports Editor

San Diego State men’s basketball looked firmly in control against Fresno State on Wednesday night at Viejas Arena.

The Aztecs led by six points with 1:18 to play and were all set to win a game which would lock them into the third seed in the upcoming Mountain West Conference tournament.

Then, in the blink of an eye, things fell apart.

Following a Fresno 3-pointer, back-to-back-to-back SDSU turnovers led to six points for the out-of-towners, and left the Aztecs trailing 75-72 with 21 seconds left.

Senior guard Devin Watson had a chance to be the hero at the end, but his heavily guarded 3-point attempt fell just short as the buzzer sounded – sending the Aztecs away with a 76-74 loss.

Fourth seed it is.

“One play makes a game, one game a makes a season, so we didn’t make that one play,” head coach Brian Dutcher said. “They did and now they’re the three seed and we’re the four seed.”

The Aztecs (19-11, 11-6 MW), who lost a conference home game for the first time this season, are now locked into a match up with UNLV in the upcoming tournament – a de facto road affair with the game played on the Runnin’ Rebels home court – but Dutcher said the team won’t let that, or this game, affect their thinking.

“We knew before this game that we would have to win three games to make it the (NCAA tournament), and that hasn’t changed,” he said. “What we have to do is not let the last minute and 15 seconds of that game take our swagger away, take our belief away that we’re good enough to win the conference tournament.”

Fresno (21-8, 12-5 MW) looked cooked with just over a minute left, having missed nine straight field goals, but a 3-point second-chance bucket from senior guard Deshon Taylor cut the visitors’ deficit to 72-69 with 1:02 to play.

Sophomore guard Jalen McDaniels was then stripped at half court on the next possession by redshirt senior guard Braxton Huggins, who scored at the rim – after McDaniels was called for goaltending – to get the Bulldogs within 72-71.

Watson appeared to get tripped up on the ensuing possession and ended up throwing the ball away, a turnover which led to a thunderous dunk from redshirt junior guard New Williams.

The worst was yet to come for the Aztecs, who now trailed by one with 27 seconds left. Watson brought the ball up the court – and proceeded to dribble it out of bounds off his foot.

SDSU did not call a timeout to regroup during the apparent meltdown, something Dutcher expressed regret about.

“Looking back, I couldn’t find a way, or didn’t find a way to get a timeout called to stop some of that momentum,” he said.

McDaniels had a chance to tie the game with 10 seconds left, after he was fouled shooting a three from the top of the arc, but his third attempt was off the mark – leaving the Aztecs one point short – and setting up the sad end to senior night.

Senior guard Jeremy Hemsley, who finished third on the Aztecs in scoring with 15 points, said it was a disappointing end to a special night.

“I just wish we closed that game better, but you can’t take it back,” he said. “Of course I’m thinking about that being my last game in Viejas… it was memorable, it was a memorable night despite the loss.”

It was a tale of two halves for the Aztecs, who trailed by as many as 15 points in a poor-shooting first period, but took their first lead of the game after a put-back slam by McDaniels with 15:27 to play.

SDSU led for nearly the rest of the game – including an eight-point advantage with just under three minutes left – before the collapse.

“We’ve just got to be better, we let them speed us up a little bit,” Hemsley said. “I’m mad at myself for not at least calling a timeout and recognizing that.”

Watson and McDaniels co-led the Aztecs in scoring with 16 a piece, while freshman forward Nathan Mensah added 12 points with seven rebounds to join his teammates in double figures.

Taylor led the Bulldogs in scoring with a game-high 25 points, to go along with five rebounds and four assists.

SDSU will close out its regular season on March 9 in a road matchup against No. 17 Nevada.