Fresno State wins Mountain West, NCAA Tournament spot
LAS VEGAS — Back in October, during the Mountain West media days, Fresno State's Marvelle Harris said he wasn't thinking much about being voted as the preseason player of the year.
Honored, yes. But he had one goal in mind: to lead the Bulldogs to the NCAA Tournament.
Harris came through, scoring 18 points to lead his team to a 68-63 victory over San Diego State to win the Mountain West Tournament title and earn its first NCAA berth since 2001.
"It was incredible. Greatest feeling I've had in my whole basketball career," Harris said. "It's a big win for the program, community, fans, everyone. And it's just a great feeling. You're overwhelmed and you just kind of — unbelievable."
San Diego State had a chance to tie the game with 28 seconds left, but Dakarai Allen missed the second of two free throws, and Bulldogs guard Julien Lewis drained four straight foul shots to put the game out of reach.
Karachi Edo scored nine points, while Lewis had eight points and seven rebounds for the Bulldogs.
No. 2-seed Fresno State (25-9) beat the top-seeded Aztecs for the second time in three meetings this season.
"We outplayed them twice, so we knew they knew us," Harris said. "We knew their scouting report, so it was going to come down to players making plays. And I think in the final few minutes that's what happened."
And Edo made one of the biggest, when he blocked Jeremy Hemsley's shot with eight seconds left. Lewis grabbed the rebound, was fouled immediately and sealed the win.
"You can coach all you want, you better have some guys that can make some plays and get some things done," Fresno State coach Rodney Terry said.
San Diego State (25-9) will likely settle for the league's automatic bid to the NIT by virtue of winning the regular-season title.
The Aztecs were led by Malik Pope, who had 19 points and 11 rebounds, and Winston Shepard, who added 15.
Though the Aztecs outscored Fresno State 38-18 in the paint, they suffered from poor shooting in the second half, hitting just 11 of 30 (36 percent), after hitting 48 percent in the first half.
"As disappointed as we are and I am, I'm 10 times more proud of who we are and what we've done and how we've done it," San Diego State coach Steve Fisher said. "We had chances. We didn't lose, we got beat. We fought. Fresno won the game."
Fresno State took advantage of 15 Aztecs miscues, scoring 18 points off turnovers, while its bench outscored San Diego State's, 18-13.
"We just didn't take care of the ball like we should have (at the end of the game)," Shepard said. "We should have been better with it."
Though Harris only scored four in the second half, they were big points, as he nailed a huge putback while falling down to start a 6-0 run that eventually tied the game at 52-all.
Moments later, with the Bulldogs down two, his layup sparked a game-closing 16-9 run that provided the final margin.
Harris, who was also the league's regular-season MVP, was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player.
TWO FOR THE MONEY
With Fresno State's win, the Mountain West's No. 2 seed improved to 8-1 in championship games, and 32-8 overall. The last No. 2 seed to win the title was in 2014, when New Mexico defeated San Diego State, 64-58.
Fresno State: Harris, who averaged 22.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.6 steals during the regular season, finished the Mountain West tournament averaging 17.7 points in three games.
San Diego State: Pope averaged just 6.3 points per game during the regular season, but had his coming out party in the tournament, in which he averaged 14 points and 7.3 rebounds. His double-double was just his second of the season.
Fresno State receives an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
San Diego State receives the league's automatic bid to the NIT.