LAS VEGAS (AP) — San Diego State has made a habit of getting knocked around early the last few weeks. It also has made a habit of absorbing the early blows, landing some solid counter-punches and ultimately scoring the knockout.
The No. 5 Aztecs followed that same script once again Friday night in the Mountain West Tournament semifinals against Boise State, overcoming a 16-point first-half deficit and cruising to an 81-68 victory.
Malachi Flynn, the Mountain West’s Player of the Year, had 22 points, five rebounds and five assists, and KJ Feagin added 21 points and six rebounds for San Diego State (30-1). The Aztecs will face the Utah State-Wyoming winner in the championship game.
The Aztecs are in the title game for the third consecutive year, the sixth time in the last seven seasons and the 10th time in the last 12. More importantly, they took another step closer to locking down a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history.
»It’s a different feeling than last year, even though it’s still the championship game,» coach Brian Dutcher said. »Last year, we weren’t going to the NCAA Tournament unless we won (the conference title). This year, we know we’re going to the NCAA Tournament. So, yeah, we want to win (Saturday) in the worst way, but we’re focused on two weeks from now when the NCAA Tournament starts.»
San Diego State, which trailed at halftime in each of its previous four games, actually jumped out to a quick 9-2 lead after sinking its first three 3-point shots. But the tide quickly turned from there, as Boise State (20-12) scored 26 of the next 31 points, which was part of 35-12 run that gave the Broncos a 37-21 lead with five minutes remaining in the half.
That’s when San Diego State woke up – on both ends of the court. The Aztecs closed the half on a 19-3 tear that tied it at 40, with guard Jordan Schakel’s 3-pointer in the waning seconds capping the run. San Diego State made six of its final seven shots in the first half and held the Broncos without a field goal over the final five minutes.
The Aztecs stayed hot in the second half, scoring 20 of the first 28 points to open a 60-48 advantage. Over the game’s final 25 minutes, San Diego State outscored Boise 64-31 en route to its third double-digit victory over the Broncos in less than two months.
»Beating a team three times in a season is hard,» said Feagin, who hit 8 of 15 shots, going 5 for 11 from 3-point range. »We got off to a great start, but basketball is a game of runs and teams are going to hit shots. And we’re not perfect. We made some mistakes that they capitalized on. But we’re resilient and we’re a talented team, and we know we’re going to get everybody’s best shot at this point. So they came out pumped and ready for the game, but we had a better punch at the end.»
The Aztecs made 15 3-pointers, shot 49.1 percent from the field and held Boise State to just 23.3% shooting in the second half (7 of 30) after the Broncos shot 57.7% (15 of 26) in the opening 20 minutes.
Alex Hobbs led Boise State with 21 points on 7-of-11 shooting. RJ Williams and Derrick Alston each had 12 points, although Alston missed all seven of his field-goal attempts in the second half.
San Diego State prevailed despite getting outrebounded 35-30, including 14-9 on the offensive glass.
»(Boise State) rocked us on our heels in the first half,» Dutcher said. »We got off to a good start, made some shots and then they went on an incredible run on us. It just shows what kind of team I have with great resolve. They didn’t panic; they just fought their way back into it and tied it at halftime. I’ve got good players, and they make me look like a good coach many a night.»
DIALED IN FROM LONG DISTANCE
Both teams were sensational from 3-point range in the first half, combining to go 15-for-29, with San Diego State making 10 of 20. The Aztecs were particularly streaky, as they started 4-for-5 from beyond the arc, missed their next six attempts, then drained six of their next nine. San Diego State remained hot from 3-point land following halftime, connecting on three of their first four shots. Conversely, Boise State misfired on 14 of its 18 3-pointers in the second half.
KINGS OF THE MOUNTAIN
With the victory, San Diego State improved to 34-14 all time in the Mountain West Tournament, including 12-4 in semifinal games. The Aztecs own the all-time Mountain West tournament records for victories (34), winning percentage (.694) and championships (five). They’ve also advanced to the title game all five times they have been a No. 1 seed
Meanwhile, Boise State fell to 5-9 in the tournament, including 0-3 in the semifinals and 0-4 against San Diego State.
AT HOME ON THE ROAD
San Diego State remains the nation’s only unbeaten team in road or neutral-site games (16-0). Every other team has at least two such defeats.