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USU video: The play that shifted the game in Aggies' tournament loss to San Diego State

LAS VEGAS — For more than 24 minutes, No. 9 seed Utah State led top-seeded San Diego State during their Mountain West basketball tournament quarterfinal matchup on Thursday at the Thomas and Mack Center.

But the Aggies' inability to finish strong in a game they at one time led by eight points cost USU the chance to extend its postseason run, as the Aztecs rallied to win 81-75.

Perhaps the most costly play for the Aggies came with four minutes remaining in the game, with Utah State holding onto a 59-56 lead.

After Aggie wing Jalen Moore missed the front end of a one-and-one, the Aztecs' Winston Shepard, a second-team all-MWC performer, took a pass near the 3-point line on the other end and dribbled into the key. But with four minutes to play, Shepard lost the handle on the ball and it was stolen by USU guard Shane Rector.

As Rector raced upcourt, he tried to pass to a streaking Moore, but Moore couldn't collect the pass and had to throw the ball back into play as he fell out of bounds, with San Diego State's Trey Kell and Shepard there on defense.

Kell collected the errant ball and raced back to the other end of the court, slicing his way to the hoop and hitting a short jumper while getting fouled by the Aggies' Quinn Taylor.

Though Kell missed the free throw, the four-point swing had shifted enough momentum the Aztecs' way, and San Diego State took the lead for good on a Kell jumper with 46 seconds to play.

"I think the play of the game maybe was when we steal the ball and have a two on one going down with Shane and Jalen, we don't convert and it seems like always in basketball when you miss a layup or an opportunity on one end seems like the other team always gets a layup on the other team. They got a layup and a foul. That was a five-point turnaround in my mind. I thought that was huge," Utah State coach Tim Duryea said.

The impact of that play was exacerbated by the Aggies' shooting struggles down the stretch, both from the free-throw line and from the field.

Utah State shot 50 percent in the first half and was shooting that percentage again in the second half (8 of 16) until it went 0-for-8 from the field to finish the game, after Moore hit a 3-pointer with 6:54 to play. Utah State finished the game shooting 41.7 percent from the field against the Aztecs, a number that is above SDSU's nation-leading average of allowing opponents to shoot just 37 percent.

San Diego State coach Steve Fisher made sure to give special attention to Shepard's effort on the play where he turned the ball over with four minutes left that he didn't give up and let Utah State score an easy bucket.

"He dribbled the ball, they took it from him, and Rector is going down on Trey. And Moore is gone, it's a two on one," Fisher said. "And Winston fought like crazy, got back in the play, Trey bought him some time, we get a turnover or a wild shot and we come down and get a basket — huge piece in the game.

"Three years ago Winston would have stopped and looked at the ref and not run the floor. That's growth. That's being a senior. That's being the leader of the team. And you have to have that."

Email: bjudd@deseretdigital.com; Twitter: @brandonljudd