Ecstatic fans stormed the court. Red and white confetti rained down from the rafters. The nets were cut down. And when all was said and done, there was the San Diego State men’s basketball team, standing victorious amid the sea of students, holding a trophy and singing a rendition of Queen’s “We Are the Champions.”
Sophomore forward Kawhi Leonard had 17 points and 12 rebounds and senior Billy White chipped in with 13 points and five boards as SDSU took down the Rams 66-48 to claim the Mountain West Conference regular season championship at Viejas Arena on Saturday night.
The game marked the second time SDSU won a regular season title in the past 33 years. Although the Aztecs will share the conference title with rival BYU, that did nothing to dampen their excitement.
“This is a special moment for all of San Diego State, but in particular, our five seniors, our basketball team, and the people involved in the program,” head coach Steve Fisher said. “We could not be more proud of how they have handled themselves, how they found ways to be successful, how they’ve done it with a smile on their faces, and never with an agenda, and that’s why we’ve won. The only thing we care about is winning, and we’ve won a lot and this feels very good.”
It was also Senior Night, where the five upperclassmen — White, D.J. Gay, Malcolm Thomas, Brian Carlwell and Mehdi Cheriet — were awarded a framed jersey and were celebrated for their accomplishments. Saturday’s win marked the 100th victory for the seniors, which is also the winningest senior class in SDSU history.
“It’s not just pride for me, but it’s pride for this program to have 100 wins in four years —it says a lot,” Gay said. “Not just about me and our players but about this program as a whole.”
“I’m just excited,” White added. “Just to go out in my senior year, in my last home game here and share it with the people I love. This is my family. It’s been a hard four years here and I’m just glad that me, D.J., B.C. (Carlwell), Malcolm and Mehdi can just go out here with our last game and play in front of the people that we love playing for. Bringing this home and having this win in our building is just amazing.”
The Aztecs came out fired up, hitting their first six shots and jumping out to a 15-6 lead. Colorado State battled back, using a 13-0 run to take a 4-point lead with 9:23 left to play in the first half.
Both teams traded baskets and ended the half tied at 27.
After intermission, the Rams’ Andy Ogide hit a jumper to make the score 29-27. On the next possession, White slashed through the lane for a layup to tie it and Leonard followed up with two free throws to take the lead at the 18:31 mark.
SDSU would never trail again. The Aztecs made a 10-0 run to open the half and take an 8-point lead, and ended up winning by 18 points with the final score of 66-48.
SDSU shot only 2-18 from long range, but used tough defense to force 15 turnovers and hold the Rams to 16.7 percent shooting from three and 36.7 percent overall.
The Aztecs will travel to Las Vegas next week in search of an MWC Tournament Championship.
“Before the season we all set goals as a team, and this is something that we can check off of our check list — winning this league championship,” Gay said. “It’s been a great season, it’s been a magical one so far but we all know that it’s not over yet. So we take this in and enjoy the moment but tomorrow comes and it’s on to the tournament.”