The San Diego State Aztecs are probably in no hurry to face the Nevada Wolf Pack in the Mountain West tournament next week.
Nevada guard Grant Sherfield scored a game-high 30 points and led a desperate second half comeback after being down by as much as 18 points only to fall agonizingly short, dropping a 79-78 decision at Lawlor Events Center.
Desmond Cambridge Jr. was recognized before the opening tip on senior night in Nevada’s final home game of the season. While they couldn’t complete the storybook finish, Cambridge’s three second-half steals, defense, and a phenomenal turnaround fadeaway three-point bucket from the corner with 15 seconds remaining to get the Pack within one had the frenzied crowd at Lawlor believing they could.
Honestly, 30 minutes earlier no one in the building saw it coming.
Following SDSU forward Keshad Johnson’s three-pointer with 8 minutes left and a 68-51 lead, a fair amount of the 8,173 fans in the building had seen enough and bid farewell during the under-eight time out that followed at the 7:30 mark.
Sherfield was the only effective offense up to that point, single-handedly keeping the Wolf Pack from getting completely run out of the building by scoring half of the Pack’s points. The Aztecs had come out in the second half in dominant fashion shooting at a 65% clip to Nevada’s 26%.
But something lit a fire in that Nevada huddle, and the Wolf Pack intensified the press defense they’d introduced a few minutes earlier, forcing turnovers (12 in the second half) which the Pack quickly converted to easy buckets with an 8-0 run to get back within nine with 5:13 left.
Nevada’s renewed energy appeared to catch SDSU by surprise, turning the tables on an Aztec team that may have been running on fumes in the altitude after both traveling to Wyoming and a double-OT affair at home vs. Fresno State earlier in the week.
Nevada continued to harass the Aztecs with pressure defense and continued to inch closer on the scoreboard.
When Sherfield rotated off Will Baker’s screen at the top of the key and both defenders followed him, he fired a twisting pass back to Baker who had stepped behind the arc. The big man’s triple swished through the net and the crowd erupting in unison was Lawlor’s loudest moment in years.
Was this happening?
The SDSU bench was in disbelief.
The Pack was inexplicably within two 77-75 and 1:14 left.
After Cambridge Jr.’s ridiculous corner triple found twine, San Diego State inbounded the ball to their star Matt Bradley, who would lead SDSU with 24 points. Bradley was quickly surrounded, panicked a bit and passed the ball out of bounds, setting up Nevada for a final shot down by one in the Aztec frontcourt with eight seconds on the clock.
Head coach Steve Alford decided to ride his star guard Sherfield rather than push the ball inside and the SDSU defense came up with a pair of big plays. Nathan Mensah blocked Sherfield’s first shot attempt. An offensive rebound and kickout back to Sherfield gave him another crack from beyond the three-point line but Keshad Johnson swatted that one away to preserve the win for the Aztecs.
Next up: Nevada travels to Las Vegas for the Air Force Reserve Mountain West Championship as the eight seed and will face #9 New Mexico on Wednesday, March 9at 11 a.m.
- Sherfield, despite being the target of the Aztec defense, finished with 30 points on 9-of-19 shooting and 9-of-12 from the free throw line. Sherfield also added seven assists against just four turnovers in 38:39 seconds of floor time.
- Nevada finishes 12-17 and 6-12 in the Mountain West.
- San Diego State finishes 22-7 and 14-4 in the Mountain West.
- The Aztecs are the number three seed in the MW Championship in the opposite end of the bracket. SDSU and Nevada can only face one another again in the championship game.
- Warren Washington, despite a hard foul to the face that resulted in him leaving the court and returning to the court with gauze stuffed in his nose, had 11 points and hauled down a game-high 10 boards. Will Baker added 11 points including 2-of-3 from deep.
Michael Smyth is a writer and photographer who moved to Reno from the Bay Area in 2007. Michael retired from a corporate road-warrior sales career in 2017 where he wrote freelance small-venue music reviews on the side to keep his sanity on the road. When he isn’t covering a concert or sporting event he might be found concocting a salsa recipe, throwing barbless flies in search of trout, or recapturing the skip-and-stop wedge shot of his youth.