5:19 And we pick it up with St. Mary's up two, 10-8, at the first media timeout. I don't think the Gaels can snag an at-large under any circumstances--they really had to win one of those shots at Gonzaga--but this is a massive game for Utah St. Their nonconference schedule is so, so weak, but their record is so, so good. Beat a team as stout in the RPI as St. Mary's is and it's hard to see how the Aggies get left out. They'd just have too many wins ... if they can win today.
5:22 Easy to see right off the bat that Utah St. deserves their reputation for the kind of XTREME offensive efficiency that's probably a little too efficient to feel comfortable with an adjective like XTREME. Their jumpers are crazy smooth, their sets are run with nutzoid precision. They're down 17-12, pretty much just because Omar Samhan and Diamon Simpson are so freaking good. Early returns are still that Utah St. should pull this out with Mills sidelined.
5:28: OK, this finally looks like the game we've been waiting for all day. Utah St.'s nailed two difficult shots the last two possessions (the second a hook over Samhan!), but St. Mary's is answering with Simpsonness. Excellent stuff on both ends. Please, please be a close game. Please.
5:32: St. Mary's backup PG McConnell commits what PBP guy Bob Wichusen calls an "unintelligent" foul, and he's not wrong. A wild slap at the ball 40 feet from the basket for your second foul when you have no one behind you on the depth chart = less than wise. The game has progressed apace: great interior passing gets USU an and-one in response to Samhan bulling his way to a hoop on the other end. St. Mary's by 3.
5:37: Patty Mills is on the mic, and both his Dapper Dan-quality suit and Aussie accent are fantastic. I do not believe that Mills lacks for female companionship during his time at his American college. Exchange of threes leaves the score at 27-24 Gaels.
5:45: After I brag on them, of course USU has a couple of seriously sloppy possessions and despite a couple of their usually productive possessions, they're down 31-26 with just under 3 minutes remaining. It's not often a team shoots 52.4 percent from the floor and trails by five, but thanks to McConnell's surprising 4-for-4 from the floor and Simpson and Samhan--who've combined for 10 rebounds and 15 points on 7-of-11 shooting already--that's what the Ags are looking at.
5:47 A big part of trailing by 7, now, when you're shooting as well as USU is is obviously turning the ball over--I don't know how many they've got, but it's a lot, and the last one (an ugly pass Simpson cut off) turned into two quick points at the other end. They've got to be more careful. On the plus side, Stew Morrill hasn't aged in like 15 years, so they've got that going for them.
5:50: Oops. With a chance for the Ags to take the last shot of the half, Wilkinson takes a three on one end--as good as he is, I think that's a little out of his range--and then fails to rotate on the other end as the Gaels drive for a lay-up at the buzzer. SMC heads into the locker room with a nine-point lead. That whole "Eh, Utah St. will come back eventually" prediction's not looking quite as hot at the moment.
6:01: Stupid Maryland. Stupid Carolina. The Terps shouldn't be on the Bubble.
6:11: Less than productive start for Utah St. to the second half: Wilkinson fumbles an easy rebound out of bounds, then leaves a hook over Samhan short, then flops to give Samhan an easy lay-up. SMC by 11. For a team that doesn't particularly like playing an up-tempo game, USU's going to have start making some headway. C'mon guys. Bid's on the line.
6:16: Ugh. Aggie airball. Next trip: turnover, run out, foul on USU. This looks more and more like an SMC win.
6:20: Quayle, the USU point guard, trips over his own feet and travels. Under-16 timeout and it's still SMC by 11. Come on guys, all I want is one halfway-close game that's in doubt at the last media timeout. I don't think that's too much to ask, is it?
6:26: Dude, Wilkinson's clearly a pretty good player, but Samhan is obliterating him. Both ends. I'm pretty sure I saw a lawyer on the Gael sideline writing out a contract on Samhan's terms of Wilkinson's ownership. As much as the Aggies clearly like running their offense through Wilkinson, they haven't figured out a way to make up for the mismatch between those two players.
6:33: There's no good way to spin this Utah St. performance. This is the same bunch of Gaels that got blown apart by Portland, got disemboweled by Santa Clara. And right now the Ags are barely even staying in the game with them. You can see the Aggies' potential, but they just aren't executing on offense and they're not playing good enough defense. It kills me, but this hasn't been an NCAA Tournament performance.
6:42: Signs of life? After falling behind by 13 (!) after Simpson hit two free throws at the seven-minute mark, Wilkinson drew a foul on Simpson and hit a hook over Samhan. It's not much, but hey, single digits.
6:44: Looking at the box score, you can see just how badly USU's defense has failed--sure, SMC's 3-of-14 from 3, but that means they've gone 21-of-35 from 2. And SMC's offensive rebound percentage is up over 30. Rough estimate of SMC's points-per-possession has got to be up around 1.25. Hard to win that way.
6:47: But not impossible? A three brings USU within five after a 9-1 run. An utterly brainless touch foul ruins the momentum by sending McConnell to the lien for two freebies. Come on, drama!
6:50: Everybody say it with me: That's the way this game has gone. On one end, USU's Tai Wesley makes a great drive and chokes the layup. On the other, Simpson gets caught and sort of volleyballs the ball up towards the rim. It goes in. It is not the day of Utah St. SMC by seven at the under-4 timeout.
6:55: Sometimes, the ball really don't lie, as the saying goes. Wilkinson takes a total walkabout--does he have his pedometer on?--and throws up a hook that rolls out. A missed one-and-one and exchange of turnovers means SMC is up six ... until a three! By Quayle! GAME ON! GAME ON!
6:58: Samhan bowls over Wesley, no call, goes to the line after Wilkinson has to maul him. First one ...no good! Second ... good. SMC by 4, 1:39 to play.
7:01: Game over. A great pass inside catches Wesley off-balance and he can't convert, leaving Quayle to take an off-balance J. No good, SMC the other way, McConnell finds a wide open Hunter for a 3. Gaels by 7. Will take an Ag miracle at this point.
7:02: Nice plus-two exchange for USU as they get an and-one from Quayle and McConnell misses one on the other end. Game on? Next trip ... oops. Quayle hits the side of the backboard on the runner. Game off.
7:04: Samhan blocks Wilkinson one more time for good measure, two more free throws, and it really is over. SMC crowd busts out the "overrated" cheer, which has never, ever made any sense: don't you want your opponent to have been appropriately rated? Aren't you degrading your own team's accomplishment?
7:06: 75-64 is your final. So, is USU an at-large? I think if they run the table between now and the WAC final, that answer is yes, but the margin is razor thin. I do think the Aggies are an exceedingly dangerous team given their precision and shooting ability--here's to hoping they win the WAC tourney and make it a moot point.
And, of course, ditto for SMC. If Mills can come back at anything close to full health, Samhan and Simpson should outright terrify any power-conference team they met. But even with today's result, they've got to claim the auto-bid or they're off to the NIT.
7:11 Well, I hope the none of you who followed along enjoyed the second annual JCCW liveblog. Without a good way of getting my laptop and ESPNU in the same location, this is the end of this year's edition. Thanks for (not?) reading. See you Monday.