Denver – The men's basketball team had the height advantage over San Diego State (SDS) coming into the game, but that didn't stop the Aztecs as they dominated the boards on their way to a 64-52 quarterfinal win Thursday afternoon.
Led by standout junior Marcus Slaughter, who had a team-high 17 points and 19 rebounds, the Aztecs out-rebounded CSU 43 to 34. SDS was able to get key rebounds on the offensive end that allowed them to stay in control of the game.
"The back breaker for us was giving up so many offensive rebounds," CSU head coach Dale Layer said after the game. "You can't give a talented team that many possessions without bad things happening."
The Rams started the game shooting poorly, as they failed to make a basket on their first six possessions. The Aztecs jumped out to an early 5-0 lead and the Rams never caught up.
"We talked about how you had to, out of the gate, be smart and be the aggressor, not the reactor," SDS head coach Steve Fisher said. "I thought we did a pretty good job of doing that today."
CSU was able to bring a 12-point deficit to within two points in the middle of the first half, but Layer received a technical foul for leaving the bench to argue a call. Aztec guard Brandon Heath made both free throws to take the momentum and a nine-point lead into the break.
The Rams again were down 12 points early in the second half. But after a Freddy Robinson three-pointer and a Michael Harrison dunk, the Rams seemed to gain some momentum and reduce the deficit.
After taking a timeout, the Aztecs proceeded to go on a 9-0 run of their own, snatching nearly every loose ball and offensive rebound.
The Rams were hampered by injuries as sophomore Stuart Creason was out with an ankle injury, senior Micheal Morris with a knee injury and freshman Chris Harris with the flu.
CSU could only connect on five of its last 13 possessions during the half, which allowed SDS to pull away.
The defensive match-up of the game was supposed to be between Robinson and Heath, but it might have been between Slaughter and Smith. Slaughter held Smith to only 13 points and six rebounds, but most importantly forced Smith to turn the ball over eight times.
Besides the offensive production of Slaughter, Heath led the Aztecs with 16 points and junior Mohamed Abukar had 13 points.
"It was a good win for us against a team that's given us a very, very difficult time this year," Fisher said.
The Rams were led by Harrison, who had a game-high 24 points and eight rebounds, while junior guard Cory Lewis had seven points, four rebounds and five assists.
The loss ends a difficult season for the Rams. The season started well but the Rams stumbled as they came into conference play. They finish with a record of 16-15 and look to build for next year.
The Aztecs (22-8) now move to the MWC semi-finals to face University of Nevada-Las Vegas, and move one step closer to receiving a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
CSU Min FG-FGA R A P
Robinson 26 1-5 2 0 3
Smith 28 5-9 6 3 13
Harrison 39 10-17 8 1 24
Lewis 39 2-7 4 5 7
Gilling 14 0-0 2 1 0
Clark 12 1-1 3 1 2
Morris, S 20 0-2 1 0 0
Patterson 22 1-4 2 0 3
Spain 28 2-8 6 3 5
Abukar 36 4-14 4 0 13
Slaughter 36 6-15 19 1 17
Heath 35 6-17 2 2 16
Williams 20 2-5 2 6 6
Sharper 18 1-4 0 0 3
Thomas 19 2-5 4 1 4
Camara 8 0-0 1 0 0