Aggies Rally Past Rams in Opening Round of MW Men's Basketball Championship
LAS VEGAS - Down 10 points with just over two minutes remaining, No. 8 seed Utah State closed out its 2014 Reese's Mountain West Men's Basketball first-round game against No. 9 seed Colorado State on a 19-5 run to earn a berth in the quarterfinals with a dramatic 73-69 victory at the Thomas & Mack Center.
The Aggies (18-13) will take on regular-season champion and top-seeded No. 8/7 San Diego State (27-3) in the first of four quarterfinal contests on Thursday. The game will be televised on CBS Sports Network, beginning at Noon PT. The Rams fell to 16-16 with the loss.
"I've been coaching a long time," said Utah State head coach Stew Morrill. "I've never been a part of something like that. That was wild. Credit these guys. We had to foul just to get it into the one on one three times in a row. We just kept playing and good fortune came our way. We made a bunch of shots.
"About everything that could go right, went right for us," Morrill said. "And everything that could go wrong, went wrong for them."
Down nine, Utah State freshman Jalen Moore and senior guard/forward Spencer Butterfield drained consecutive 3-pointers to pull the Aggies within one at 66-65, and then went ahead seconds later when Colorado State junior guard Daniel Bejarano was whistled for a technical foul and Butterfield hit both free throws. Bejarano was held to a career-low field goal percentage by the Aggies, going just 2-of-17 (.117) from the floor and 0-for-5 from beyond the arc.
Utah State iced the game by hitting all eight of its free-throw attempts in the closing seconds. Senior guard Preston Medlin reached double figures for the 22nd time this season and led the team in scoring with 17 points, while Butterfield and senior guard TaNale Roland scored 14 points apiece.
"It really came down to making free throws," said Medlin, who scored nine of Utah State's final 16 points. "We practice making free throws every day in practice. I was confident going to the free throw line.
The Aggies sank a total of 11 three-pointers in the contest, a new MW men's championship first-round record, surpassing the mark of 10 set by Nevada, vs. Wyoming on March 12, 2013. They also set a new first-round record with 37 team rebounds.
Colorado State junior guard Dwight Smith, who set career-highs in points (21) and rebounds (eight) hit a contested jumper with the shot clock expiring to give the Rams a 66-57 lead with 1:35 play. They wouldn't score again until junior guard Jon Octeus converted a layup with 19 seconds remaining to pull CSU within 69-68, but the Rams would get no closer. Octeus finished with 19 points for the Rams.
"Well, you know, I thought we were the tougher team for 38 minutes," said Colorado State head coach Larry Eustachy. "Unfortunately, it's a 40 minute game. Give Utah State all the credit. We just couldn't make the plays down the stretch, and they certainly did. So they deserved to win."