San Diego State basketball escapes Colorado State's upset bid in Mountain West tournament

LAS VEGAS — A monumental upset was right there for the taking.

Only once has the No. 8 seed beaten a No. 1 in the Mountain West men’s basketball tournament.

Colorado State was looking to repeat that feat (accomplished previously by the 2004 CSU team).

The Rams had No. 1 San Diego State on the ropes early and often in a back-and-forth battle. CSU led inside the final 2 minutes and had multiple chances to send the game to overtime, but they fell short.

In the end, San Diego State won 64-61 in Thursday’s Mountain West quarterfinal at Thomas & Mack Center.

Here are three thoughts on the game and how it played out.

Mad final minute-plus

The endgame was full on madness.

CSU star guard Isaiah Stevens hit a 3-pointer that touched seemingly every bit of the rim and backboard before dropping to give the Rams a 59-58 lead.

Free throws from Jaedon LeDee made it 60-29, SDSU. Stevens attempted a highly contested running layup, but it was too strong.

Matt Bradley then made it 62-59 with 16 seconds left with a pair of free throws. CSU scored a quick two-pointer (62-61) with 10 seconds left.

Nathan Mensah then hit one of two free throws (63-61). Stevens again raced to the frontcourt, pulled up for a mid-range jumper. It looked good and true but spun around and out.

"I was literally right behind it. When he let it go, I'm, like, that's down. I thought it was kind of down. Tonight itdidn't," CSU coach Niko Medved said. "He has made a lot of those in his career, so exactly right. You just live with the result, and that's what it was."

Patrick Cartier grabbed the rebound, but as he went up to shoot, he lost the ball through contact and no foul was called.

After replay, 0.7 seconds were added to the clock due to a foul to send Mensah to the line. He again hit just one (64-61) before Stevens fired a last-ditch shot from past half-court that was close to in, but hit front rim.

Game over. Season over.

Fistfight of a game

This was a San Diego State game through and through. The electric early pace quickly gave way to a grinding, attritional battle where every bucket felt like a significant swing.

CSU started the game on an 8-0 run, and the Aztecs responded with a 7-0 run of their own. After that the margin was never more than four points in either direction.

The game was balanced on a razor's edge the entire time.

So much of what CSU would want to happen did happen.

CSU forced three more turnovers than it conceded and outscored San Diego State 14-1 off those turnovers. The Rams equaled the larger Aztecs (30-30) in paint scoring.

The rebounding was heavily in San Diego State’s favor at 42-32 and 17-10 in second-chance points.

It all added up to a game decided by a couple key plays. San Diego State hit the late shots needed, and CSU’s just missed.

That’s the difference.

Stevens scored 16 points and had eight assists, but he shot just 5-for-20 in a rare inefficient game as he was hounded by defensive star Lamont Butler. John Tonje was excellent for CSU with 17 points. Cartier had 12, and Jalen Lake had 10.

San Diego State was led by 16 points from Butler, while Bradley had 13 and LeDee had 10.

End of a frustrating season

This game was a microcosm of CSU’s season. When on, the Rams were quite dangerous but couldn’t (except for a win at Saint Mary’s) snag big victories.

There was a two-point loss to Boise State, an OT loss to San Diego State, close defeats to Utah State and USC. All those are teams fighting for NCAA Tournament bids. All those games were there to be won but weren’t.

The limited roster continued to hang in and showed flashes of excellent play but never was able to string together results.

Roster changes in store:What's next for CSU basketball in the offseason?

It leaves a bitter taste with a sub-.500 season (15-18) the year after being in the NCAA Tournament.

"Even after the season that we've had with all the ups and downs, we never flinched, wenever back down from any opponent, any game, any moment," Stevens said. "It just comes down to executing it, and today we executed a really good game plan, but we just came up short."

In the harsh business of college basketball, the offseason starts almost immediately and roster changes will be coming.

Follow sports reporter Kevin Lytle on Twitter and Instagram @Kevin_Lytle.

How the Rams got there:Isaiah Stevens game-winner sends Colorado State basketball to Mountain West quarterfinal

This article originally appeared on Fort Collins Coloradoan: San Diego State basketball team escapes CSU upset in Mountain West tourney