SAN DIEGO — Deshon Taylor loved hearing Viejas Arena go silent as his Fresno State Bulldogs forced San Diego State into an epic final-minute meltdown.
New Williams stole the ball and scored the go-ahead basket on a slam dunk with 30 seconds left and Fresno State overcame an eight-point deficit in the final 2 minutes, 50 seconds to stun San Diego State 76-74 Wednesday night and clinch the No. 3 seed in the Mountain West Conference Tournament.
Taylor scored 25 points for Fresno State (21-8, 12-5 MWC), including a 3-pointer that keyed the comeback and then three free throws in the final 21 seconds.
“This is like a March Madness win,” Taylor said. “That’s what it felt like.”
Defense Fuels Bulldogs’ Surge
Taylor’s 3-pointer pulled Fresno State to 72-69 with 1:02 left and then SDSU couldn’t handle the Bulldogs’ full-court press, committing three costly turnovers.
Braxton Huggins stole the ball and went in for a layup to pull within one point. Devin Watson was caught in traffic and threw the ball away to Williams for his slam dunk and a 73-72 lead with 30 seconds left.
“I feel like we took their soul with that one,” Taylor said.
A third turnover resulted in Taylor going to the free throw line and making both for a 75-72 lead.
SDSU’s Jalen McDaniels was fouled while taking a 3-pointer and had a chance to tie it with 10 seconds left. He made the first two free throws but missed the third and the Bulldogs rebounded. Taylor made the first of two free throws and Watson missed a desperation 3 at the buzzer.
“It’s never giving up,” Taylor said. “This team comes together on the road. We play hard and we never want to lose on the road. We like to hear other crowds going silent. I told my guys, ‘This game’s not over.’ ”
Aztecs Coach ‘Bitterly Disappointed’
SDSU coach Brian Dutcher said he was “bitterly disappointed in the outcome of a very good college basketball game. We couldn’t close the game and that is on all of us. … We took a nice lead, we were playing with a good rhythm and in a matter of 1:20 it all slipped away. Credit to Fresno — they press without fouling.”
SDSU didn’t call a timeout to try to stop Fresno State’s momentum.
“Once the ball is inbounded the players have to call the time out. The refs won’t let me call it,” Dutcher said. “The ball got inbounded and then it got moving too fast.”
Watson, a senior guard, had two of the three late turnovers.
“I think that is on the players and we’ve got to be better,” said fellow senior guard Jeremy Hemsley. “We let them speed us up a little, but in having two seniors on the court we have to know we have two timeouts. They did a good job of pressuring without fouling. We have to better, 100 percent.
“I wish we would have closed that game better.”
Huggins finished with 14 points.
“We came back and we gave ourselves a chance. That’s all you can ask as a coach, is to keep fighting at the end. I’ve got a special group of guys that keep doing that.” — Bulldogs coach Justin Hutson
Watson and McDaniels each scored 16 points while Hemsley had 15 and Nathan Mensah 12 for SDSU (19-11, 11-6).
San Diego State, which overcame a 15-point first-half deficit, seemed to have the game in hand when Matt Mitchell hit a 3-pointer for a 71-63 lead with 2:50 to go.
Hutson Praises Bulldogs’ Resiliency
Fresno State’s rookie head coach, Justin Hutson, who spent 10 seasons as an assistant at SDSU, over two stints, said the Bulldogs have been resilient all season.
“We came back and we gave ourselves a chance,” Hutson said. “That’s all you can ask as a coach, is to keep fighting at the end. I’ve got a special group of guys that keep doing that.”
Winning at Viejas Arena was special.
“I know so many people here who treated me so great,” Hutson said. “It was a little different standing up on this sideline here, but it felt great to get a W.”
After trailing by 15 with seven minutes to go in the first half and 39-32 at halftime, SDSU went on a 13-5 run to open the second half and take its first lead of the game, 45-44, on McDaniels’ slam dunk off a rebound. Hutson drew a technical foul during an ensuing timeout and Watson made both free throws for a 47-44 lead.
The Bulldogs beat SDSU 66-62 in Fresno on Jan. 22, when the Aztecs blew a 20-point first-half lead.
Fresno State: The Bulldogs have won two straight after losing two straight for the first time this season.
San Diego State: The Aztecs fell behind because of poor shooting early. They missed their first seven shots 11 of their first 12 and 14 of their first 17.
Fresno State ends the regular season by hosting last-place San Jose State on Saturday.
San Diego State finishes the regular season at No. 17 Nevada on Saturday night. The Aztecs have beaten the Wolf Pack three straight times, including 65-57 at San Diego on Feb. 20 and in last year’s MWC tournament semifinals.