Video Highlights Courtesy of Mountain West Network
LAS VEGAS – No J.J. Avila, lots of problems.
Playing without their leading scorer, Colorado State fell 46-43 to San Diego State in the MW tournament semifinals Friday night.
The Rams never really found any consistent offense against one of the nation’s best defensive teams. Gian Clavell got the start in place of Avila. Stanton Kidd was their only player to finish in double digits as the Aztecs held CSU to 32 percent shooting and a season-low scoring output.
“They do a real good job of containing penetration and packing the paint when you drive the basketball,” Kidd said. “Also they took away our bread and butter, which is screening and rolling.”
After getting down 7-3 early, CSU fought back with an 8-0 run as the offense began to flow more through Tiel Daniels and John Gillon but it did not last for long. SDSU responded with an 11-0 run of its own led by Dwayne Polee, who scored half of the Aztecs’ 24 first half points.
Kidd and Bejarano were held scoreless in the opening frame, going a combined 0-for-8 from the field. SDSU went into the break up 24-18 after holding CSU to 28 percent shooting in the half.
“We weren’t hitting very many shots,” Bejarano said. “Every shot we took was probably tough. We just got to give them credit.”
SDSU extended the gap to 35-23 by converting five of its first six shots in the second half, with the lone miss leading to a putback. Kidd and Bejarano were able to assert themselves more but the Rams had trouble getting stops when they needed them.
SDSU’s went big with a lineup of Aqeel Quinn, J.J. O’Brien, Winston Shepard, Malik Pope and Skylar Spencer, which caused all sorts of matchup problems for CSU. It forced Kidd, who held O’Brien scoreless in the first on 0-for-5 shooting, to instead guard Pope. O’Brien and Quinn took advantage of their size against smaller guards to combine for 20 second half points.
Fatigue began to wear on CSU as well. Head coach Larry Eustachy only went seven-deep in his rotations. John Gillon and Fred Richardson III were the only other reserves to play for CSU but had trouble guarding Shepard in the post and never attempted a field goal. Gillon’s five points was the only scoring the Rams got from their bench.
“We were pretty tired but we kept fighting,” Kidd said. “That’s the thing that coach liked about the game tonight. The first thing he said after the game was over was that we kept fighting and we didn’t give up. I think that’s going to do us a big favor when we get to the NCAA Tournament and we got J.J. back with us.”
Kidd got going for a bit in the second half and finished with 10 points, eight rebounds and five blocks. He hit two consecutive threes before Daniels powered home a dunk to cut SDSU’s lead to 45-38 with 7:26 to play.
However, that was as close as the Rams would ever come. Aqeel Quinn hit a corner three shortly after to push the lead back to double digits and spark a 7-0 SDSU run that put the game out of reach.
Quinn and Shepard finished with 16 points each. Polee chipped in another 12, all of which came in the first half. The Aztecs will face the Wyoming Cowboys in the MW Tournament championship Saturday at 4 p.m. MT.
“I thought the game was a little closer than 13 points,” Eustachy said. “A few layups here, a few shots there. But, I mean, that’s a team that goes Sweet 16 that just beat us.”
Eustachy said that Avila could have played if needed, but that he talked the senior forward out of it. The loss eliminated the Rams from the MW tournament, but Eustachy believes CSU had already done enough to earn an at-large bid for the NCAA tournament.
“We’re not on the bubble – we’re 28 (in the) RPI,” Eustachy said. “I’ve been through this a lot, and we’re squarely in the NCAA tournament. You know, if you read the criteria, the body of work… I think we’ve had about as good a body of work as most.”
Collegian Sports Reporter Emmett McCarthy can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @emccarthy22.