Playing with fire finally got San Diego State burned. The Aztecs fell 59-56 to Utah State in the Mountain West Tournament championship game on Saturday as the Aggies upended them with a go-ahead shot from Sam Merrill in the final few seconds.
Merrill led all scorers with 27 points and put Utah State ahead for good with a wild stepback 3-pointer from the top of the key that found the bottom of the net.
San Diego State star Malachi Flynn led the Aztecs with 16 points and nearly had a miraculous answer to Merrill at the buzzer that would have sent the game to overtime.
It was the sixth consecutive game SDSU fell behind before rallying, but this time, the rally fell flat. The loss causes the Aztecs to fall from a projected No. 1 seed to a projected No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, according to Jerry Palm, with Dayton benefiting from San Diego State's slip by bumping up to a No. 1 seed. The Flyers are wrapping up their regular season Saturday against George Washington.
Utah State was Palm's bubble and playing in the "First Four" entering the day as a No. 11 seed. But the win gives the Aggies an automatic qualifier to the NCAA Tournament, all but ensuring two teams from the Mountain West will be in the field of 68. Utah State closed their season with wins in 12 of their last 14 games after opening the season 13-5. Cause for celebration for coach Craig Smith, to be sure.
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2020 Mountain West Tournament schedule, scores
Location: Thomas & Mack Center -- Las Vegas
First round -- Wednesday, March 4
- Game 1: No. 9 Air Force 77, No. 8 Fresno State 70
- Game 2: No. 7 New Mexico 79, No. 10 San Jose State 66
- Game 3: No. 11 Wyoming 80, No. 6 Colorado State 74
Quarterfinals -- Thursday, March 5
- Game 4: No. 1 San Diego State 73, No. 9 Air Force 60
- Game 5: No. 5 Boise State 67, No. 4 UNLV 61
- Game 6: No. 2 Utah State 75, No. 7 New Mexico 70
- Game 7: No. 11 Wyoming 74, No. 3 Nevada 71
Semifinals -- Friday, March 6
- Game 8: No. 1 San Diego State 81, No. 5 Boise State 68
- Game 9: No. 2 Utah State 89, No. 11 Wyoming 82
Championship -- Saturday, March 7
- Game 11: No. 2 Utah State 59, No. 1 San Diego State 56