Well, it was fun while it lasted.
UNLV ended San Diego State’s perfect season on Saturday, 66-63, at Viejas Arena in San Diego.
The Aztecs are now 26-1, but are still fully equipped for a deep March run.
For much of Saturday, however, the Aztecs did not look like the 1 or 2 seed they will almost definitely earn in the NCAA Tournament.
The Rebels led for nearly the entire game, and even while they struggled to score in the final 10 minutes, were able to hold off a San Diego State team that seemed unable to hit that big momentum-swinging shot until it was too late.
Malachi Flynn (24 points) scored plenty, but was inefficient in doing so. The entire team struggled from the field and from three, while bad fouls and inopportune turnovers plagued them down the stretch.
Still, San Diego State fought back. The lead hovered around three possessions until Flynn finally hit a three with 2:37 left that brought the Aztecs to within six. He hit two free throws a minute later to pull them within four. Then Aguek Arop made it a two-point game. Then, after two free throws from the Rebels, Flynn hit another three to make it a one-point game.
The Aztecs, as poorly as they played, had a chance to tie it in the final possession.
But Flynn missed a three with seven seconds left and a heads-up play from Marvin Coleman to throw the ball off a San Diego State player gave the ball back to the Rebels. Even when the Aztecs stole the inbounds, a half-court prayer at the buzzer did not fall and UNLV escaped with the road win.
Much will be made of what this means for San Diego State, and rightfully so. We can now debate where the Aztecs will fall in the bracket, whether they’ll stay out west or travel east, and whether “taking a loss was good for them.” We’ll debate it ad nauseam.
No one is going to talk about what this means for UNLV. The Rebels are now 15-14 in TJ Otzelberger’s first season, but are 10-6 in the Mountain West. They have a great shot at their first 12-win conference season since 2008 and are starting to get some real momentum under the new regime. With a still relatively young team, UNLV is in position to improve headed into next year. It’s possible that after some close calls at home earlier this season, this win could be the real starting point.