Utah State (12-7, 2-5 MW) gave San Diego State all it could ask for, including an overtime forced by a miracle shot by Spencer Butterfield. But the Aztecs got turnovers in the extra period that led to points, then made the free throws they needed to as the Aggies were left with a 74-69 defeat after a win had seemed within their grasp.
In front of a national television audience and a fully-packed Dee Glen Smith Spectrum, Utah State fell a little short Saturday. But the loss was not without a bit of a confidence boost after a disheartening loss to UNLV a few days before.
"I think it shows we can compete with anybody in this league," said Butterfield, who had a team-high 19 points for the Aggies. "We've had a couple games that haven't gone our way. Those games are going to start going our way if we keep battling."
San Diego State was carried by an outstanding individual effort from Xavier Thames, who had a game-high 31 points and made the biggest shots of the night. A whopping 23 of his points came in the second half and overtime.
Utah State appeared to miss out on its best chance to lead the game in regulation with 20 seconds left, as both Preston Medlin and TeNale Roland passed up open looks and Jalen Moore then was forced to take a contested jumper as the shot clock got low.
The miss was collected by San Diego State, and Roland who had been the steady hand against the Aztecs' pressure all night was forced to foul out.
It looked like the last chance for the Aggies, until Spencer Butterfield nailed a 3-pointer with two hands in face with 2.5 seconds left to tie it at 57-all. The Aztecs couldn't answer before the buzzer ran out, and the crowd roarded with approval as Utah State got an extra chance to win.
"I didn't think we were going to get anything off," coach Stew Morrill said. "It was kind of a miracle shot. Great shot on his part."
But the magic ran out in overtime. Two turnovers hurt, as did the Aztecs' 4-for-5 overtime shooting. The game eventually got to a five-point margin near the end.
While Moore, Marcel Davis and Ben Clifford made baskets to try to stay close, SDSU free throws closed the door on any shot the Aggies had.
"Our guys played really hard, made shots, gave themselves a chance," Morrill said after the team's fourth Mountain West loss by single digits. "We just got to find a way down the stretch."
The second half was the start of the true tooth-and-nail fight, as Butterfield came out of the half firing to close the gap, then Medlin heated up from beyond the arc.
Utah State took its first lead at the 12:29 mark on the second of Medlin's back-to-back 3s.
The game took a defensive turn after the Aggies gained a four-point lead, as neither team scored for the next few minutes. But San Diego State pulled back into a tie game as time ticked away, and Jarred Shaw fouled out with minutes to spare.
The Aggies took their last lead on an athletic layup by Moore, but late whistles cost them dearly. The Aztecs ended up with 29 shots from the free-throw line, and made 20. The Aggies were only at the charity stripe seven times, and made only two.
The Aggies had a back-and-forth game going early, with the packed house providing high-volume support. The teams swapped the lead eight times, but SDSU gained traction as Utah State had a six-minute stretch without a field goal.
When the game appeared to be going the way of UNLV, Stone provided a spark. The junior had four points in the final 2:16 of the half, with Butterfield closing the gap to a manageable four before halftime.