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Mountain West Tournament Day 1: Aggies cruise, Falcons soar and the Aztecs battle back

Catching up on a strange opening day of Mountain West action.

NCAA Basketball: San Diego State at Utah State Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

The Mountain West Tournament opened up on Wednesday with three games in the opening round. Here’s what you missed from the first round of action.

(8) Utah State 90, (9) San Jose State 64

After playing a close game just a few weeks back that resulted in a 81-75 win for the Aggies, it appeared as if the two teams were headed towards another close finish. Going into the locker rooms at the half tied at 31, both teams were in search of something that could give them the upper hand. Utah State found it. San Jose State did not.

The Aggies came storming out of the locker room with a 17-4 run propelled by standout freshman Koby McEwen. The freshman guard controlled the pace of the game, and carved up the Spartans defense on his way to a game-high 27 points. The Aggies maintained a comfortable lead throughout the half, and then Jalen Moore and his luscious afro threw down this dunk that took away whatever hope San Jose State might have still had.

On top of the poster dunk, Moore chipped in with 19 points of his own, and controlled the paint as the Spartans struggled to get anything going near the rim. The Spartans shot under 40 percent from the field, and simply could not keep up with the Aggies’ offensive explosion.

Utah State’s 59-point second half set a Mountain West record for points in a half, and a 10-for-17 performance from the three-point arc was the major catalyst to the 26-point margin. The Aggies will advance to the quarterfinals, where top-seeded Nevada awaits. The two teams split their matchups in the regular season, each winning on their home court.

(10) Air Force 83, (7) Wyoming 68

In the second game of the afternoon, Air Force opened up with the first bucket of the contest. The Falcons then proceeded to score the next 23 points as well. At the 11:43 mark in the first half, the score was 25-0 in favor of the Falcons. I promise you that isn’t a typo. I mean, just look at this game flow chart:

AF-Wyo game flow

Once Wyoming FINALLY scored, the margin was already insurmountable. The Cowboys went into the locker room facing a 48-27 deficit, and could never build a rally to get back in the game. Air Force maintained a comfortable lead as it never allowed Wyoming to close the margin to single digits. The game wasn’t as close as the final margin suggests (is 15 points even close?), but Wyoming made it a little bit more respectable with some late points in garbage time.

The Falcons punished the Cowboys by doing two things that weren’t common areas of success during the regular season: forcing turnovers and getting to the free throw line. They forced Wyoming into 20 turnovers, and went 29-for-34 from the charity stripe. Jacob Van led the scoring charge with 18 points, and three other starters joined him in double digits.

Air Force now advances to the quarterfinals to face second-seeded Colorado State. The Rams dominated the only matchup of the year with an 85-58 win on the Falcons’ home court.

(6) San Diego State 62, (11) UNLV 52 (OT)

You know how sometimes you just take the win and try to forget about it? Something along the lines of “survive and advance?” Well, I would imagine that’s what San Diego State’s mindset is after escaping with an overtime win. The Aztecs looked flat, disinterested, and just downright bad in the first half. The result? A 32-14 deficit to the worst team in the conference, and one blogger who was ready to claim another jinx victim.

Luckily for the Aztecs (and my credibility), San Diego State came out in the second half looking like a new team. The offense woke up, and its patented defense got stop after stop while chipping away at the Rebels’ lead. At the end of regulation, the two teams were tied at 50, and the fans were treated to an extra five minutes.

In overtime, it was all Aztecs. Trey Kell scored seven of his 13 points in the extra frame as the Aztecs outscored UNLV 12-2 in that span. Malik Pope joined Kell as the only Aztecs in double figures with a 13-point, 12-rebound double-double. The team as a whole shot 31 percent from the field, but a win is a win no matter how ugly it is.

San Diego State advances on to meet Boise State, which is the No. 3 seed in the tournament. The Broncos won the only matchup between the two teams back in January, but both teams have been struggling to find consistency in recent weeks.

The quarterfinal matchups will be broadcast on CBS Sports Network and are as follows:

Game 4: (1) Nevada vs. (8) Utah State, 3 p.m. ET

Game 5: (4) Fresno State vs. (5) New Mexico, 5:30 p.m. ET

Game 6: (2) Colorado State vs. (10) Air Force, 9 p.m. ET

Game 7: (3) Boise State vs. (6) San Diego State, 11:30 p.m. ET