Aztecs lose heartbreaker in overtime to Arkansas

In the NCAA Tournament, if you lose against the nation’s 14th-ranked team, you shower, go to the hotel, pack and head directly to the airport for a flight home. Your season’s over.

At the Maui Invitational, you go to the hotel, sleep, get up the next day and play … the nation’s ninth-ranked team.

And then you play overtime.

San Diego State gave it the ol’ college try, leading No. 9 Arkansas by 13 in the first half and by eight with five minutes to go and by four inside 15 seconds to go before surrendering a tying shot at the regulation buzzer and losing 78-74 in OT.

It was the third-place game in Maui but it felt like a final, knowing the loser was going home 1-2.

That’s the No. 17 Aztecs, who beat an Ohio State team that was just outside the top 25 in the opener, then lost to a team that surely will be in the top 10 next week (Arizona) and one that already is (Arkansas).

They’ll rue this one for a while, though.

After a pair of Adam Seiko free throws gave them a 67-63 lead with 17 seconds left, Arkansas got within two on free throws from Anthony Black. The Aztecs inbounded to Lamont Butler in the corner — a no-no in basketball — and he was instantly trapped.

Instead of calling timeout, he 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.

Arkansas coach Eric Musselman drew up a play for Black, who got into the lane and hoisted a floater that missed … and that Kamani Johnson tipped in over two Aztecs.

The officials went to the replay to determine if time had expired before he released the ball. It hadn’t. Overtime.

SDSU trailed by two late in OT but still had a chance to force another, but Matt Bradley’s drive and layup rolled off the rim with five seconds left (and with no whistle). Johnson made a pair of free throws at the other to clinch it.

It was a valiant effort by the Aztecs (4-2), considering they were 0 of 14 behind the arc before finally making one with 5:32 left and having Mountain West defensive player of the year Nathan Mensah play only 11 minutes before fouling out 3:48 left in regulation against a longer, more athletic opponent.

Bradley nearly single-handedly willed them to victory, erupting for the kind of game he regularly produced last season and hadn’t this one. He finished with 23 points, shooting 8 of 13 inside the arc and 1-7 behind it, to go with seven rebounds.

Darrion Trammell had 13 points, many of them clutch baskets down the stretch. Keshad Johnson had 10 points before fouling out as well. Butler had nine points, but none in the second half or overtime.

Arkansas (5-1) got 20 points from Brazile, 19 from Wichita State transfer Ricky Council IV and 15 from Black.

The Aztecs outshot the Razorbacks, 43.5 to 40 percent, but were only 2 of 18 on 3s and were outrebounded 40-34. Arkansas had an 11-4 advantage in second-chance points.

After multiple slow starts this season, including in the first two Maui games, the Aztecs reversed the trend and actually got points on their first two possessions. They really got going midway through the first half, though, with a 15-1 run after holding the nation’s No. 9 team without a basket for seven minutes.

That built a 13-point lead that momentarily shrunk to seven before a four-point possession pushed it back to double figures. Bradley scored on a floater in the lane, was fouled and missed the free throw, only for Arkansas to lose the rebound out of bounds. The Aztecs inbounded and Butler found Aguek Arop for a layup.

Musselman prefers a lean six-man rotation, but he also as a rule subs out players with two fouls in the first half and three of his starters had two each. He sent center Makhi Mitchell back in and he instantly got a third.

SDSU led 35-26 at the half, impressive considering it hadn’t made a 3-pointer. Then again, neither had Arkansas, which was also 0 of 8.

But the Razorbacks finally made one, then another, and cut the margin to three early in the second half.

That might have been a problem last season. This Aztecs team, though, has “spurtability,” and it took a mere 65 seconds to grow the lead 11 — a Mensah dunk, then three straight fast-break hoops.

It hovered there for a while before the Razorbacks began chipping away, finally tying it with 3:37 left.

Notable

The Aztecs will spend Thanksgiving in Maui and fly home Friday, then begin practicing ahead of Tuesday night’s home game against UC Irvine. That starts a stretch of six home games out of the next seven. The only one that isn’t at Viejas Arena is a Dec. 10 neutral-court game against Saint Mary’s in Phoenix.
· Musselman is now 4-7 against SDSU, with the previous 10 meetings coming while he was at Nevada.


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