San Diego State senior guard Trey Kell saved his best performance for last, scoring a career-high 28 points as the Aztecs defeated the University of New Mexico Lobos 82-75 in the championship game of the Mountain West Tournament.
Kell scored 21 of his 28 points in the second half while spearheading a 9-0 run with 7:20 left in the second half that put the Aztecs up for good. After the Lobos took a six-point lead on a Makuach Maluach layup with 7:40 left in the half, Kell started an Aztec run with two free throws and Jeremey Hemsley made a three-point basket with an assist by Kell to bring SDSU within one point.
In what turned out to be one of the biggest shots of the tournament, Max Montana hit a three-point shot in the corner and was fouled by UNM guard Anthony Mathis. Montana completed the four-point play to give the Aztecs a three-point lead, with San Diego State scoring an impressive nine points in just over a minute of action.
Senior point guard Antino Jackson led the Lobos in scoring with 17 points in his final game in the cherry and silver. Five Lobos ended the game with double figures, including senior Sam Logwood, who completed his time at New Mexico with 11 points on three of seven shooting.
San Diego State outshot New Mexico 50% to 41%, with both teams finishing the game shooting 33% from behind the arc. The Aztecs owned a plus-six advantage in rebounds and an eight-point advantage in points in the paint.
The Lobos continued to be one of the best free throw shooting teams in the country, making 15 of 17 attempts from the foul line. But their inability to force turnovers (both teams finished with 12 turnovers on the day) and the fact that they managed to make just two of 13 three-point attempts in the second half proved to be their downfall.
Although there were questionable shot selections in the final two minutes of play, and some head-scratching coaching moves with UNM not fouling down four points with a minute to play, there is no doubt that UNM’s strong showing in the conference tournament culminated an excellent first season at New Mexico for head coach Paul Weir.
With a collection of junior college transfers, young players looking to find their confidence, and void of a true center, the Lobos surpassed expectations and put the program back on track.
With the win, the Aztecs earn an automatic bid in the 2018 NCAA Tournament, joining fellow MW foe Nevada who will likely earn an at-large bid as the No. 22 ranked team in the nation. Both teams will find out where they play in the field of 68 teams in the NCAA section show on Sunday afternoon.