#17 Aztecs Sustain Stunning 78-74 OT Loss vs. #9 Razorbacks At Maui Invitational

#17 Aztecs Sustain Stunning 78-74 OT Loss vs. #9 Razorbacks At Maui Invitational

A real heartbreaker: Aztecs fumble certain victory in the game.

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The Aztecs had the handle for most of this game, until a few key errors unfolded and the Razorbacks capitalized.

Lahaina, HI–  The #17 SDSU Aztecs (4-2) lost to the #9 Arkansas Razorbacks (5-1) 78-74 in overtime in the 2022 Maui Jim Invitational Consolation Match, following #14 Arizona’s victory against #10 Creighton for first place.

The victor of this game stood to take third place; but really, this was a marquee match between #9 and #17 ranked teams. A win by either would be a resume builder, as both teams look to move up in the AP Top 25.

Sadly, the match was tarnished by unsportsmanlike behavior and conduct, most of which originated not from players- but from Razorbacks head coach Eric Musselman whose behavior at moments was simply appalling.

The Aztecs had victory in clear sight, leading by four.  In light of the closeness and the tenacity of the Razorbacks,  a two-possession game with under 15 seconds remaining and the Aztecs possession of the ball normally means game over.

Yet, through back-to-back errors, a face-melting, unbelievable sequence of events ensued.  Like a hog swallowed by a red and black dragon, Arkansas chewed themselves through the abdominal lining and right out of the belly of the beast- with a vengeance.

A Closer Look

In the first half, the Aztecs were very much in command, entering halftime with a 35-26 lead, despite the Aztecs not making a 3-pointer. Thankfully, neither had Arkansas.

In the second half, Arkansas started strong and pulled to within 37-34 on Trevon Brazile’s three-pointer with 16:01 to play in the second half.

The Aztecs responded with an 8-0 run over a 1:05 span to go ahead 45-34, prompting a timeout by Musselman.

Both teams battled back and forth, with the lead going up and down, but suddenly the game was tied up at 63 apiece.

Then, Matt Bradley made a reverse layup, giving the the Aztecs a 65-63 lead with 1:02 remaining.  Adam Seiko then added two free throws for a 67-63 lead with 17 seconds left.

Where It All Came Undone

Lamont Butler is a great athlete and a dedicated Aztec who has done great things for San Diego State, and this in no way suggests there is no appreciation for his regularly excellent play.  But, two big errors created the opening the Razorbacks needed to hand SDSU a stunning loss.

Normally, SDSU intentionally fouls when up by three once the clock goes inside 10 seconds to prevent the other team from shooting a 3 pointer… but not when up by four.

The Razorbacks, now down 63-67 with 17 seconds left, regained possession after Adam Seiko made a pair of clutch free throws.

Inconceivably, after Arkansas inbounded, Butler moved in and intentionally fouled Anthony Black with 13 seconds left.  Then, Black made BOTH free throws to cut the lead to two.  The Aztec Nation collectively fell out of their seats everywhere all at once.

Next, with a 67-65 lead, and possession of the ball: the Aztecs inbounded to Butler on the right sideline with 13 seconds to go.

Butler was instantly trapped by two defenders against the sideline. Instead of calling timeout or playing for a jump ball (SDSU had the possession arrow), Butler tried to fight through the trap and was stripped. Arkansas’ Trevon Brazile dove on the loose ball and called timeout with 7.5 seconds left.

By now the Aztec Nation was in utter disbelief, as victory seemed to be slipping away before their very eyes.

During timeout, Musselman drew up a play for Black, who drove into the lane and put up floater and missed. Johnson then tipped it in over two Aztecs.  The Aztec Nation collectively lost their minds.

Officials watched the replay to see if time had expired before he released the ball. It did not. They did, however, overlook an offensive foul.

The game moved into overtime, 67-67.

In overtime the Aztecs mostly trailed, except when a 3-pointer by Darrion Trammel sank giving the Aztecs a 70-69 lead with 3:56 left. Ricky Council IV countered with a jumper that gave the Razorbacks a lead they would not give up again. In the final seconds, the Aztecs’ Matt Bradley missed a potential tying layup with 3 seconds left, as he was arguably fouled in the process, but there was no whistle.

Kamani Johnson then made a pair of free throws to seal the win at 78-74.

Notable

Trevon Brazile had 20 points and nine boards off the bench, and Ricky Council scored 19 points for Arkansas.

Matt Bradley had 23 points on 9 of 20 shots and grabbing seven boards for the Aztecs; Darrion Trammell managed 13 points, and Keshad Johnson had 10 points with seven rebounds.

Nathan Mensah picked up two fouls in the opening minutes and finished with just two points, four boards and no blocks.

Anthony Black finished with 15 points for Arkansas

The teams combined to miss their first 17 3-point attempts before Brazile hit one for Arkansas at the beginning of the second half. Arkansas finished 3 for 17 from distance and San Diego State made 2 of 18.

Despite the 3-point shooting, Arkansas made 40% from the field and San Diego State made 43.5%.

Despite Brian Dutcher’s coaching prowess, the most critical thing to be said of him is that Eric Musselman found a way to beat him.

Eric Musselman’s Behavior

After the match, Eric Musselman, a La Jolla native and USD graduate did something no NCAA coach in any situation should ever do.  As players exhibited traditional sportsmanship shaking hands, Muss turned to the Aztecs fans and marquee Aztec Matt Bradley, and made an “L” sign with his thumb and forefinger, placing it on his forehead, taunting the losing players and their fans by calling them losers in a derogatory way. Bradley was visibly upset.

This further inflamed an emotionally invested crowd, and Musselman’s highly unsportsmanlike behavior in this moment, along with other gestures he made during play beg a serious question:

What penalty should a team sustain when their head coach instigates the opposing team’s players, coaches and fans?  

It’s incredible to think this question has to be considered.  Muss incited conflict, and taunted emotionally charged fans through behavior lacking in sportsmanship, leadership and class- and unbecoming of an NCAA coach.

Automatic tournament forfeiture could be in order, some say.  A major fine to Muss ought to be considered as well.

Ultimately, Arkansas, a respected SEC member, has to ask itself if Eric Musselman is the kind of company they keep.

Silver Lining

Despite the heartbreaking end to an incredible tournament in one of the most beautiful places on planet earth, the Aztecs were able to spend Thanksgiving in Maui before flying home on Friday.

The Aztecs now have to prepare for Tuesday night’s match at Viejas Arena against UC Irvine, who might find themselves on the receiving end of SDSU’s furor.

 

 

Story originally appeared on Mountain West Wire