There was no miracle this time.
After winning its past two Mountain West games by a combined two points, Colorado State just didn’t have enough magic left in the tank Wednesday night, falling to San Diego State 69-62 in front of a crowd of 4,018 at Moby Arena.
Aztecs guard Trey Kell scored a career-high 19 points, despite shooting just 1 of 8 from the 3-point line, and Jeremy Hemsley and Malik Pope each added 14 to pace SDSU.
The Rams had their chances late though, but CSU turned the ball over on three consecutive possessions in the final minutes, and the Aztecs closed the game on a 7-0 run to move to 11-6 overall and 4-0 in the Mountain West.
In what was a bit of uncharacteristic first half for both teams, the Rams (10-7, 2-2 MW) dominated inside, outscoring the Aztecs 14-4 in the paint. Senior center Tiel Daniels pushed around San Diego State’s longer, more athletic front line, scoring 10 points on 4-for-4 shooting. The Rams couldn’t find their rhythm from being the arc though, shooting just 2 of 9 from downtown, somewhat of foreshadowing for the rest of the night.
Despite their 3-point shooting woes, the Rams led by two at halftime, taking a 31-29 advantage into the locker room.
The second half started much of the same way as the first, with the teams trading buckets, with San Diego State stretching its lead to as many as five points midway through the half. Consecutive 3-pointers from Joe De Ciman and Antwan Scott would give the Rams back the lead a minute later though, and neither team would lead by more than three until the final minute.
Trailing by three with 1:20 left, CSU converted three key free throws — one by Daniels and two by Fred Richardson III on the ensuing rebound — to tie the game at 62 with 1:05 to play.
On the next trip down, Kell’s running floater gave the Aztecs a two-point lead, and the Rams wouldn’t score the rest of the way, turning the ball over three times, twice with a chance to cut San Diego State’s lead to two points.
After giving SDSU all it could handle inside, the Rams struggled to finish easy looks around the rim, and the Aztecs took advantage, outscoring CSU 20-10 in the paint in the final 20 minutes.
“They started double-teaming, and it was coming quick, and they’ve got a lot of length, so it was hard to back down and do my moves that I do,” Daniels said. “You’ve got to give credit to them.”
CSU head coach Larry Eustachy reiterated that point, praising the Aztecs for their composure and veteran play down the stretch, something the fourth-year head coach said CSU sorely lacks at this point with so many new players in new roles.
“We’re just not quite to the point where we have the experience and the poise and the confidence (to win these games),” CSU head coach Larry Eustachy said after the game. “This team certainly doesn’t need to be berated or anything, they need to be shown how close they got and why it didn’t work out. And then they need to learn from it, and that will happen.”
CSU was led by De Ciman’s team-high 16 points, while Daniels pitched in 15 points and six rebounds. However, CSU’s guards — Scott and John Gillon in particular — struggled mightily, combining to shoot 4-for-20 from the field, including just 1 of 13 from the 3-point line.
As a team, CSU shot just 6-for-25 from the 3-point line, their worst shooting performance this season.
“It shouldn’t (bother us),” De Ciman said the Aztecs length on defense. “We just played a really athletic UNLV team and you know, we did whatever we wanted against them. Starting with me, I think we just rushed things for no reason, and they were the aggressor tonight and we just got manhandled at points.”