LAS VEGAS — Utah State shook off a nightmarish first 8 1/2 minutes, and rallied for a 76-65 win over Colorado State in the opening round of the Mountain West Championships at the Thomas & Mack Center Wednesday afternoon.
The win moved No. 7 Utah State into the quarterfinals against No. 2 Boise today at 6 p.m.
“Obviously not how you draw it up,” Utah State coach Tim Duryea said. “We were sluggish to start. I don’t know if it was nerves or what, but we were flat No energy at either end of the floor, and they took advantage of it.
“About halfway through the first half I thought our defensive activity and intensity picked up, and that bled through the rest of the game.”
The Aggies fell behind 20-5, as the Rams’ Che Bob exploded for nine early points and Prentiss Nixon added five. Bob would score only three the rest of the game.
The Aggies went on a 25-10 run, tying the game at 30 with 1:45 left, as Koby McEwen (25 points), Dwayne Brown Jr. (15) and Julion Pearre (14) all made big contributions.
Brown started the rally with two free throws and later added a 3-pointer to make it 20-12. Over the next 6-plus minutes, McEwen scored eight points and Pearre had nine, all on 3-pointers.
The game was tied at 35, 39 and 41 through the first 4-plus minutes of the second half.
Utah State took the lead for good, 45-44, on a Sam Merill jump shot with 14:48 left in the game. Merrill finished with 11.
The Rams, who went through a brutal season that saw both head coach Larry Eustachy and associate head coach Steve Barnes placed on administrative leave, trimmed the deficit to three a couple of times, but never got over the hump.
UNLV 97, AIR FORCE 90 OT
The Rebels snapped a five-game losing streak, outscoring the Falcons 21-14 in overtime to grab the win.
UNLV improved to 20-12 and Air Force concluded its season at 12-19. The Rebels face Nevada today at noon.
“These games are always tough to coach when you go against disciplined teams that have a strong signature of how they play, and that’s what this team does,” UNLV coach Marvin Menzies said. “They are in all their games, and they just fight. We knew it was going to be a fight. We were prepared to play this type of game. We were happy to come out on the winning side.”
The Falcons never led in regulation. The score was tied nine times.
The last tie came with 24 seconds left in regulation when Frank Toohey converted a three-point play, tying the game at 76. The Rebels had a chance to win, but Jovan Mooring’s rushed 3-pointer was off the mark
Trevor Lyons gave the Falcons their only lead in the extra period with a three-point play 25 seconds into the overtime to make it 79-76.
Jordan Johnson misfired on the next possession, and that’s when the game turned for Air Force. The Falcons had back-to-back shots blocked by Brandon McCoy and Shakur Juiston on the same possession, and Johnson drained a 3 at the other end, tying the game at 79.
“I just wanted to win,” McCoy said when asked about the blocked shot sequence. “There was plenty of time and Shakur blocked the shot. I knew No. 12 (Lavelle Scottie) was going to get the rebound, and I went in and luckily got the block.”
Air Force briefly went ahead 81-79 on a layup by Jacob Van, but UNLV went on a 10-0 run to take a 91-81 lead with 1:05 left.
WYOMING 74, SAN JOSE STATE 61
The Cowboys’ Justin James went 9-for-9 from the floor and 3-for-3 from the line en route to 24 points in the win over the Spartans.
Wyoming, hoping for an NIT bid, improved to 20-12. San Jose State finished 4-26.
Wyoming also converted 14 turnovers into 16 points and outscored the Spartans, 36-18, in the paint.
The Cowboys led 40-30 at the half, and then opened the second half with an 11-0 run for a 51-30 lead. SJSU never recovered.
Alan Herndon scored 15 and Hayden Dalton added 10 points and six assists.
Ryan Welage led SJSU with 25 points and Jaycee Hillsman scored 24.