March Madness: San Diego State holds off Charleston, ending Mountain West's lengthy NCAA tournament losing streak

The Mountain West’s NCAA tournament losing streak has finally come to an end.

San Diego State, the No. 5 seed in the South region, knocked off No. 12 seed College of Charleston in a defensive struggle in the first round Thursday in Orlando.

In a 63-57 win, the Aztecs limited the Cougars to 32.1% shooting from the field and made just enough plays down the stretch to move on to the Round of 32.

With the win, San Diego State snapped an 11-game losing streak for the Mountain West that dated back to Nevada’s loss in the Sweet 16 in 2018.

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It didn’t come easy.

San Diego State’s lead was just three points at halftime over Charleston, the champions of the Colonial Athletic Association who entered the NCAA tournament with a 31-3 record. SDSU had a three-point lead at halftime that grew to as large as nine points during the second half.

Despite its offensive struggles, Charleston chipped away at the lead and managed to tie the score 53-53 with 3:27 to play. But San Diego State responded. Matt Bradley put the Aztecs back up two with a driving layup and then Micah Parrish followed that up with a 3-pointer.

From there, Charleston would twice cut the deficit to three points in the final minute but could never quite get over the hump. The Cougars had a chance to get the ball back while trailing 58-55 but Jaylon Scott fouled Bradley as he tried a 3-pointer with 25 seconds remaining as the shot clock was running down. Bradley hit two of the three free throws to put the Aztecs back up by two possessions.

On the next possession, Charleston cut it to 60-57 with a layup. But it was too late. SDSU's Adam Seiko would add a clutch free throw to ultimately seal the win.

Charleston was limited to just 5-of-24 on 3-point shots while the Aztecs used their size advantage to connect on 50% of their two-pointers. Bradley led the way with 17 points and seven rebounds while Keshad Johnson, Aguek Arop and Jaedon LeDee pitched in eight points apiece.

While the Cougars’ remarkable season ends in a first-round exit, San Diego State will move on to face Furman, the No. 13 seed who upset No. 4 seed Virginia earlier Thursday.

For SDSU, it’s the program’s first NCAA tournament victory since 2015. Brian Dutcher took over for Steve Fisher following the 2017 season, but the Aztecs had previously been 0-3 under Dutcher’s watch.

Now that skid — along with the Mountain West’s — has come to an end.

San Diego State guard Matt Bradley (20) gets around Charleston guard Jaylon Scott (21) during the first round of the NCAA tournament on Thursday, March 16, 2023, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
San Diego State guard Matt Bradley (20) gets around Charleston guard Jaylon Scott (21) during the first round of the NCAA tournament on Thursday, March 16, 2023, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Mountain West's NCAA tournament losing streak snapped

Before Thursday, it had been nearly five years since a Mountain West team had won an NCAA tournament game.

Nevada was blown out in the First Four by Arizona State on Wednesday night and then Utah State lost to Missouri early Thursday, allowing that MWC losing streak to reach 11 consecutive tournament games. Before that, the Mountain West went 0-4 in 2022, 0-2 in 2021 and 0-2 in 2019.

Nevada made a run to the Sweet 16 in 2018, but the Wolf Pack's Sweet 16 loss to Loyola Chicago ended up being the first of 11 straight losses for the conference. Nevada's second-round win over Cincinnati on March 18, 2018, was the conference's most-recent tournament victory before San Diego State put an end to the streak on Thursday.

Meaningless foul results in bad beat for Charleston bettors

Charleston was a pretty popular underdog for bettors in the lead-up to the tournament. Depending on when and where you placed your bet, San Diego State closed as either a 5 or 5.5-point favorite.

With that in mind, the foul that was called with 0.7 seconds remaining and San Diego State up 61-57 was very meaningful for some.

The foul had absolutely no impact on the outcome of the game. But when Parrish calmly sunk two free throws to give San Diego State a 63-57 victory, it was either a miracle cover for SDSU backers or a horrific bad beat if you picked the Cougars to stay within the number.