No. 5 San Diego State rallies from 13 down to beat Nevada
For the Nevada Appeal
RENO — The San Diego State Aztecs reminded everyone on Saturday why they are the No. 5 team in the nation and the Mountain West regular season champions.
The Aztecs overcame the biggest crowd at Lawlor Events Center this season (10,855) and a 13-point second-half deficit to beat the Nevada Wolf Pack 83-76 to close out the Mountain West regular season.
The Aztecs, 28-1 overall and 17-1 in conference, will be the No. 1 seed in this week’s Mountain West tournament in Las Vegas. The Wolf Pack, 19-11, 12-6, will be the No. 3 seed and will open tournament play Thursday night (8:30 p.m.) at Thomas & Mack Center.
“I’m anxious to see how we handle things (in the tournament),” Pack coach Steve Alford said. “But I know we’re much more prepared now than we were a month ago.”
The Wolf Pack, which saw its six-game winning streak come to an end, seemed prepared to upset the Aztecs. The Pack led 45-36 at halftime, 52-39 three minutes into the second half and 66-60 with nine minutes to play before the Aztecs took over the game.
San Diego State went on a game-changing 13-0 run to take a 73-66 lead with just under six minutes to play and never let the Pack get closer than three points the rest of the way.
“We kind of relaxed a little bit in the second half,” said Pack point guard Lindsey Drew, one of four seniors along with Jazz Johnson, Nisre Zouzoua and Johncarlos Reyes who were honored after the game.
“The last time we played them (a 68-55 loss in San Diego on Jan. 18) we stayed with them for a half,” Johnson said. “This time we got to about six minutes left. After that it just came down to who made shots. The shots were contested. It was just a matter of who was going to make them.”
That turned out to be the Aztecs and, in particular, point guard Malachi Flynn. The 6-foot-1 junior scored a career-high 36 points on 13-of-20 shooting. Flynn, who played the entire 40 minutes, also had three 3-pointers, five rebounds, five assists and was 7-of-7 from the free throw line.
“He’s an awfully good player,“ Alford said. “I saw enough of him at Washington State.”
Flynn, who played from 2016-18 at Washington State when Alford was the head coach at UCLA, attacked the basket all night long and had seven layups.
“Flynn just got away from us,” Alford said. “We couldn’t guard his actions. He created offense for himself and he created offense for others.”
The Pack, which got 24 points from Jalen Harris and 13 each from Drew and Johnson, saw its offense vanish in the final 10 minutes. The Pack made just two of its final 12 shots over the final 10 minutes and went scoreless for four minutes during the Aztecs’ 13-0 run.
“We just came up on the short end of it,” Alford said.
The Pack, which saw its 20-game Mountain West home winning streak come to an end, had the Aztecs on their heels in the first half.
The Pack scored the most points allowed by the Aztecs in the first half of a game this year, streaking to a 45-36 lead at the break.
The most points the Aztecs had allowed in the first half this season was 41 to Iowa in an 83-73 win on Nov. 29. San Diego State has now trailed at halftime just six times this season, twice to the Pack. The Pack also led the Aztecs 35-33 at the half back in January.
The Pack dominated the final 10 minutes of the first half, outscoring the Aztecs 25-13.
“The support from the crowd was through the roof,” Drew said. “They definitely at times kept us in the game.”
The Aztecs, which led for just 3:18 in the first half, took a 26-25 lead on a layup by Flynn with 8:45 to go in the half. The Pack, led by Harris and Johnson, then blitzed the Aztecs 20-10 the rest of the half.
Johnson hit a pair of free throws and a 3-pointer just 29 seconds apart as the Pack took a 30-26 lead with 8:03 to play in the half. Drew hit a jumper and Reyes had a layup for a 34-29 Pack lead with just under six minutes left.
Flynn, who had 22 points in the first half, did his best to keep the Aztecs close. He attacked the basket and converted a pair of layups to cut the Pack lead to just 34-33 with just under five minutes to go before the half.
The Pack, though, then went on a 9-0 run to take control. Reyes had a dunk, Harris drained a 3-pointer, Johnson had two free throws and Zane Meeks hit a jumper as the Pack scored nine points in just 3:22 to take a 43-33 lead just 1:14 before halftime. Harris hit a jumper at the buzzer for the Pack’s nine-point lead at the break.
Harris led the Pack in the first half with 17 points and three 3-pointers. Both teams, though, shot well in the first half. The Pack was 17-of-30 (57 percent) while the Aztecs were 13-of-24 (54 percent). That hot shooting continued in the second half as the Wolf Pack finished 26-of-53 (49 percent) while the Aztecs finished at 28-of-53 (53 percent).
The Wolf Pack then dominated the first three minutes of the second half, taking a 52-39 on a Drew 3-pointer with 16:52 to play. The Pack still led 57-48 with 15 minutes left after a Harris 3-pointer.
The Aztecs’ offense, though, finally woke up. Jordan Schakel, a 6-foot-6 junior, drilled his third 3-pointer of the second half to start a 10-0 San Diego State run as the Aztecs took a 58-57 lead with 12:35 to play. Those three threes in the first six minutes of the second half were the only nine points Schakel scored all night.
Flynn then hit a short jumper for his first points of the second half with 13:46 to go and then added a three-point play to cut the Pack lead to just 57-56 with 13:22 to go. The Aztecs, which leads the rivalry against the Pack 19-6, then took their first lead since the nine-minute mark of the first half on a pair of free throws by Adam Seiko.
A pair of free throws by freshman K.J. Hymes ended the Aztecs’ run and gave the Pack a 59-58 lead with 12:14 left. A 3-pointer by Johnson put the Pack up 62-60 with 11:29 to play.
Hymes then converted a layup off a feed from Harris and a minute later added a pair of free throws as the Pack stretched its lead to 66-60 with nine minutes to play.
The last nine minutes then belonged to the Mountain West regular-season champions. The Aztecs came alive on both ends of the court, going on the game-deciding 13-0 run over a three-minute span.
Flynn nailed a 3-pointer to start the run. Yanni Wetzell, who scored eight points, had two free throws to cut the Pack lead to 66-65 and later converted a three-point play to complete the run and give the Aztecs a 73-66 lead with 5:42 to go.
K.J. Feagin, who scored 14 points, also had a 3-pointer during the run and also assisted on a layup by Trey Pulliam. Feagin also connected on a jumper for a 75-68 Aztec lead with 3:15 left.
The Pack, though, did not go away completely. Zouzoua and Johnson connected on 3-pointers and Harris had a pair of free throws as the Wolf Pack cut the San Diego State lead to 79-76 with a minute left. Johnson’s three, with 3:02 to play, was the Pack’s first successful shot from the floor since Hymes’ layup with 10:17 to play.
Johnson, though, missed a 3-pointer with 32 seconds to play and Harris missed a three with 23 seconds left. Flynn put the game away with a layup with 44 seconds to go and a pair of free throws with 31 seconds left.
“Most of it (the reason for the loss) was on the defensive end,” Alford said. “We didn’t get the stops we needed in the second half. That (consistency on defense) is where this team still needs to grow.”
The Wolf Pack saw its 10-game home winning streak come to an end. The Pack’s last loss at Lawlor before Saturday was 76-66 to USC on Nov. 16. The Pack’s last Mountain West loss at home before Saturday was 86-78 to UNLV on Feb. 6, 2018.
“We’re not going to let this game bring our confidence down,” Johnson said.