SAN DIEGO, CA - In front of the sixth sellout crowd at the Cox Arena at Aztec Bowl, Saint Mary's could not overcome an early 13-0 deficit and fell to San Diego State 70-66 in the quarterfinal round of the National Invitational Tournament. San Diego State's Tim Shelton posted up for the go-ahead basket with 48.6 seconds left and Richie Williams made three free throws in the final 26 seconds as the Aztecs held off the Gaels.
Saint Mary's (28-7) battled back the entire game, and tied the score at 64-64 when Patrick Mills scored a lay-up with 2:03 remaining in the game. After SDSU pulled aheld with the Shelton bucket, Mills went to the line with a chance to tie the score with 34.9 seconds remaining, but missed the front end of a one and one.
After Williams made a pair of free throws following the Mills miss, Carlin Hughes connected on a lay-up with 14.9 seconds reamaining. Mills would foul Williams again, sending him to the line for a pair of free throws. Williams made one of two, giving the Aztecs (26-9) a 3-point (69-66). On the ensuing SMC possession, Mills fumbled a pass out of bounds in front of the SDSU bench, ending SMC's chances to pull out the victory and earn a trip to New York's Madison Square Garden for the NIT final four.
Mills would lead the Gaels with a game-high 18 points, but it came in a 7-for-24 shooting night. He was 4-for-13 from 3-point land, and had five assists to go along with five turnovers.
For the seventh time this season, Diamon Simpson and Omar Samhan had a double-double in the same game for the Gaels. Simpson finished with 11 points and 14 boards, while Samhan had 10 points, 12 rebounds and a game-high five blocked shots. Saint Mary's was 6-1 this season when Simpson and Samhan had a double-double in the same game.
Hughes finished the game with 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting off the bench.
Billy White scored 17 to lead the Aztecs (26-9), who will play Baylor (23-14) in the semifinals on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.
SDSU had lost to Saint Mary's in consecutive appearances in the John Wooden Classic, including 67-64 on Dec. 13.
San Diego State jumped out to a 13-0 lead over the first four minutes of the game. SMC’s first basket came at the 15:59 mark when Mills hit a 3-pointer to end the drought. Saint Mary’s cut the SDSU lead to 20-10 following a basket by Simpson, but the Aztecs used an 8-2 run to open its biggest lead of the first half at 28-12 following a pair of free throws by Ryan Amoroso at the 9:38 mark.
With SDSU leading 30-14, Saint Mary’s used an 8-0 burst to cut the Aztecs’ lead to single digits at 30-22. SMC continued to cut into the San Diego State lead, getting as close at 32-27 after an O’Leary three and a Samhan jumper. SDUS following the Samhan basket with a 5-0 run to extend the advantage to double digits (37-27), and after a Simpson free throw, Lorrenzo Wade made a lay-up to give the Aztecs a 39-28 lead at the break.
After the Gaels got down by 13 to start the game, SMC outscored the Aztecs 28-27 over the final 16 minutes of the half.
After SDSU extended its lead to 46-33 following an Amoroso three at the 17:05 mark, before Saint Mary's started closing the gap. The Gaels went on a 10-2 run to cut the deficit to 48-43 with 13:55 following a Hunter put-back. During the run, SMC got four points from both Hunter and Carlin Hughes. Saint Mary's tied it at 64 on Mills' fast-break layup with 2:02 left but could never take the lead.