March Madness: San Diego State advances to first Sweet 16 since 2014

March Madness: San Diego State advances to first Sweet 16 since 2014

As JP Pegues lay on the court entangled with San Diego State’s Nathan Mensah, the Furman guard could only watch in bewilderment after missing what seemed to be a sure layup. Instead, the remaining Aztecs players raced down the court, looking to add to a double-digit lead.

Forty-eight hours earlier, Pegues’ last-second 3-pointer ruined Virginia’s tournament hopes and propelled the Paladins into the second round. This time around, it was No. 13 Furman that was shell-shocked after a poor-shooting half led to No. 5 San Diego State (29-6) cruising to a 75-52 win in the second round of the NCAA Tournament at Amway Center on Saturday.

“We hang our hat on defense and that’s one thing we do every game,” said Aztecs coach Brian Dutcher. “Then when we get the opportunity, we start making shots and play offensively, then we’re very good.”

San Diego State advances to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2014.

The 23-point win was the program’s largest win in NCAA tournament history.

“Unfortunately, it wasn’t our night,” said Furman coach Bob Richey. “We wish we would have played better. Wish we would have shot the ball a little bit better, but some of that, you have to give credit to them.”

Furman (28-8) started the game by connecting on two of its first three shots to grab a 4-0 lead, but the Paladins then went cold from the floor, hitting only one of its next seven shots. The lull opened the door for San Diego State to charge back to grab a 10-6 advantage.

The teams exchanged the lead for several minutes before Furman took a 13-12 advantage with 11:58 left in half. Shooting woes continued to plague the Paladins, who went more than six minutes without a point — allowing San Diego State to go on an 18-1 run that pushed the Aztecs back on top.

Dutcher credited his team’s ability to dive deep into its roster for providing a much-needed burst during that critical stretch.

“It’s hard to do, but when you have the depth we have, we always have fresh legs on the floor,” he said. “We don’t play a guy and suddenly he’s tired because he’s so valuable he can’t be off the floor. Everybody is the same on the team, and anybody is capable of leading us in scoring and anybody is capable of making important plays.”

To that point, San Diego State had nine players with more than 15 minutes of action.

SDSU forward Micah Parrish scored 14 of his 16 points during the final 8:35 of the first half to help push the lead to 39-25 at intermission. Parrish was one of four Aztec players to finish in double-digit scoring, along with Darrion Trammell (13), Lamont Butler (12) and Matt Bradley (10).

Parrish, who led the team in scoring for just the second time in his career, pointed to his teammates for his performance.

“We just try to find an open guy,” he said. “Each game might not be your game, but I guess today was mine and my teammates just kept finding me.”

The second half wasn’t much better for Furman, which struggled from the floor, and the Paladins connected on just two of six field goals to start. To make matters worse, forward Jalen Slawson picked up his fourth foul with 16:27 left in the game, sending the fifth-year senior to the bench.. He returned at 11:52 but fouled out less than two minutes later, receiving a technical foul on the way out.

“They were definitely the most physical team we played this year and one of the best defenses in the country,” said Pegues. “When they have the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year [Nathan Mensah], it makes things even more difficult with his shot-blocking ability and being able to contest some shots at the rim.”

Mike Bothwell led Furman with 15 points while Alex Williams had 11.

This article first appeared on Email Matt Murschel at or follow him on Twitter at @osmattmurschel.